Start out with a list of $n$ leaf nodes: we will consider this as a list of nodes which we have to give parents, to construct a complete binary tree.
Take any two nodes $a,b$ from the list, and give them a common parent $p$. (We must take them in twos, to satisfy the completeness property of the tree.) Now those two nodes have parents, but the new parent node $p$ does not; so we remove $a$ and $b$ from the list and add $p$ in. This reduces the size of the list by 1, no matter how we choose the nodes to give parents to. We may then repeat this, giving a parent to two other nodes (where one of them is possibly the node $p$ which we just inserted).
We will have finished constructing the tree only when there is one node left with no parent: the root node of the tree. Doing this requires $n-1$ stages of creating new parent nodes. Thus, to build the tree from $n$ leaves, we needed to add $n-1$ new nodes.