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Be a Better Leader
Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Who is the 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 to achieve some clarity.

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, prioritizing their hope, aspiration and motivation. Key attribute; you know what makes your people tick.

Driving means you bulldoze through, using power and position. Common goal is important. Few get 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 causes bottlenecks by delaying 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.

Enabling personal fulfillment will leave your team wanting more. Eager to venture with you in the next challenge. It is fulfilling to your team members  when they share common pride that they've made the difference, they have done the right things in the right way., achieving the desired outcomes. It is the satisfaction of meeting and exceeding the challenge in an effective and ethical way, no hanky-panky, 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 senior organizational leadership team. They came in all shapes and sizes, all tones and volume, with varied educational background and experience. If you ask me, were there any 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 United States.

Throughout the 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 work credit but even stole recognition and company property, one in cahoots with the site manager to 'milk the cow,' and, other swamp creatures. Scary stuff.

Two questions; how did the crooks they get there and what can you do if you have one of the rogues as your team 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 as good leaders.

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. on behalf of his boss. Can be as trivial as doing all the PowerPoints.
Be a Better Leader on Unsplash

4) Beneficiaries from 'empire building' by the new boss. This happens when an insecure person is appointed to head an organization, possibly with 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, 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 sponsor beyond 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  then 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. Gain visibility by helping the juniors succeed.
Be a Better Leader
Dmitry Verchorkou on Unsplash

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 sometimes you just can't, look out for an internal opening in other teams. You have nothing to lose. Instead of fretting over your leader, you have to strengthen your resume with leadership experience. Enough for you to become a leader, when a suitable opening pops up. And aspire to be 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. They did all the good work but all credits were stolen or suppressed.

It is true that some leaders would not promote the most capable. To meet the growth quota, they will raise the profile of the shabbier performers. This is a strategy used to make sure that their better performers would not be poached. Sadly, super-performers could be suppressed, especially those who show outstanding leadership qualities for another reason. This is to protect the faulty perception that the rogue leader is the one who makes things happen. That the difference in leadership qualities between the leader and his or her team is too far. The main objective is to suppress the mobility of the super-performers internally so that the leader can enjoy dominance over the chicken that lays the golden eggs for as long as possible. You can think whatever you want. For the rogue leader it is survival. For the organization as a whole, a constant ethics threat. Such a leader is stealing something else.

When I started working, I believed my elders. Work hard and you will be rewarded. I hope this is mostly true. I have had my challenges and I am sharing so that you can do it (your work, your career) with eyes wide open. 

You surrender but never give up. Surrender that you have a rogue leader whom you can't change but don't give trying to find a better way up. It could even mean that you have to seek better pastures elsewhere. The truth is that your qualities will shine through when you find a level playing field. For some, like me, it may take longer. If you hang on to your dreams long enough, it will happen. For me, it took twenty years and a total take over by expatriate leadership, The uneven ground was levelled and I was able to shine.

Research shows that those who have had suffered under rogue leaders, will be better leaders. I am confident I had been one. The only plausible explanation for our team meeting and exceeding challenges quarter after quarter for more than a decade within cost and safety goals, with no major ethics violation and with  zero undesired turnover. Till today, a decade after I retired, I am grateful to have worked with such a good team. And also to have suffered under a number of rogue bosses to self-check for bad practices.

You can surrender but never give up. Good luck.

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