Who is a leader? Easy. Your boss. Your up-line. The one in charge. Or, the one who is put in charge of the organization you are in.

What is a leader? Hard. The definition is as varied as there are writers about the subject of leaders and/or leadership.

For me, a leader is one who is able influence a team towards a common goal, and enables its members to achieve the desired outcomes with a sense of personal fulfillment. Rather long in definition, but I think it is necessary.

The key words are influence, common goal, enables, desired outcomes and personal fulfillment. In the aggressive tech environment, you'll see a lot of 'drive' for influence. 'Influence' shows that you know your people's drives instead of driving your people. It means you know how to communicate with them, their aspiration and motivation. Drive means you bulldoze through, using power and position. Common goal is important. Nobody gets to experience 'flow' by striving for the company or the boss's goal.Your follower or subordinate must feel that they, too, are owners of the goal. It's your job to clear the roadblocks, make quick right decisions and approvals to enable your team. Commonly, the boss cause bottlenecks by delaying on decisions and funding. The goal is a tangible vision but it must be translated to outcomes. Outcomes includes the key elements of quantity, quality and humanity, and they must be desirable to all stakeholders, meeting the critical success indicators. Personal fulfillment will leave your team wanting more. Eager to venture with you in the next challenge. Fulfillment means that the members feel that they made the difference, they have done the right things in the right way. It is the satisfaction of closing the challenge in an effective and ethical way, no handicaps, no cutting the corners.

Is this type of leadership prevalent? Unfortunately, no. I have had 12 managers in my career. All of them were considered as part of the organizational leadership team. They came in all shapes and sizes sizes, all tones and volume with varied educational background and experience. If you ask me, if there were good managers, I can name a few. If you ask me if there were SOBs, I can name a few. If you press me to identify a true leader as I have defined, I can name two. And they were expatriates from the US.

For decades of my service, I had to deliver with excellent technical experts, a micro-manager whom you would think was counting your breaths, a brazen credit thief, a lazy, liar and small time thief who was not content with stealing credit but even stole recognition, one in cahoots with the boss to 'milk the cow,' and other swamp creatures. Scary stuff.

Two questions; how did they get there and what can you do if you have one of them as your lead?

How could the swampy types get to be leaders. These could be some of the conditions:

1) They were part of the start-up. Everybody were new in a new industry. As they say, among the blind, the one eyed is the king. The company did well. You have heard the quote arguably attributed to John F. Kennedy: "The rising tide lifts all boats."

2) They were highly respected technical experts in a technical company. Good engineers mistaken for a good leader.

3) In cahoots with a VP or a boss's boss on something not good. These types will do the hard work or get his subordinates to do all the hard work so that his boss can have the good life. Will also take all the raps.

4) Beneficiaries from 'empire building' by the new boss. This happens when an insecure person is appointed to head an organization, possibly on one of the above conditions. He wants his "own cohorts" to be safe and secure. And so he pulled every of his henchmen and women from the previous organization, one by one and position them to suppress the incumbents. Usually, these leaders would manipulate performance indicators. This is the strategic cover up plan.

What can you do if you have one of these as your leaders?  Nothing. And plenty.

You can do nothing about the swamp. And it is dangerous to try to drain the swamp. You do not know what your boss says about you or secretly reports about you to the higher echelon. Some things you hear, some thing you do not hear. Unless someone from above empathizes, and then sympathizes with you. And any good intention can backfire. Disastrously. For you.

Anyway, you are not responsible for your boss. My consolatory thoughts in the past was exactly this. But there is a lot you could do to position yourself for leadership. And, I hope you will aspire to be a better leader.

Most often in this type of situation, unless you are able to lean into the 'inner circle' it is a challenge for you to rise to the leadership level. It is hard especially in the case of  ' empire building.'

But all is not lost. Since you are not able to work from within, you have to work outside in. While delivering a good performance, look for a mentor or, in my previous organization, a sponsor, out of your organization. Someone big enough or connected enough to raise your visibility. Find out the hot buttons and key aspirations. Contribute to your future mentor's success. Deliver a few results and ask to be a mentee. Participate actively in key site projects especially the usual high focus stuff in  CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), safety and employee welfare projects. Work your way into leadership roles in such committees. Be a mentor yourself.

In the higher echelon, when your boss speaks about you, your mentor will speak for you. If you still could not make a breakthrough in your organization, and sometime you just can't. Look out for an internal opening in other organizations. You have nothing to lose. Instead of fretting over your leader, you have strengthen your resume with leadership experience. Enough for you to become a leader, when a suitable opening pops up. A much better one.

One last thing. With poor leadership, how did the organization thrive? Down the layers, there were very capable people, working very hard, trying to break through to the inner circle. Good luck.


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