The Challenge of Frustration

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss leadership with a group of mid-level managers. At the end of my presentation I was approached by a significant number of the attendees who all had the same question.


The questions, while asked differently all had the same theme: what do I do when my “leader” isn’t a real leader at all?


The answer to that question is simple and complicated all at once. I’m assuming (I know that’s dangerous) that the people asking the question are truly leaders. That means they care about the people they lead, they understand that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of the people they lead and that they get as much pleasure from their people’s success as they do their own. 


If that is the case then the answer to the question is this: Lead Up.


Lead your leader the same way you lead your followers. Realize that your leader is a person too, realize that they, like every other human being on the planet, have their faults and limitations. 


The most Authentic Leaders lead in every direction, down, across and up. That means that instead of criticizing the person above you, which accomplishes nothing, you should be trying to help them overcome their faults and limitations. You can coach them the same way you coach others, you can demonstrate that you care about them the same way you demonstrate that you care about others. You can invest yourself in their success as if their success was your own…because for an Authentic Leader it is.


But…and this is what makes it complicated, before you can do any of that you must earn the right to lead up. 


Earning the right to lead up requires that you lead yourself exceptionally well. You must have the trust of the person above you to lead up. You earn that trust by being completely transparent with your leader. You don’t say one thing to them and then something else to your followers. You do what you say you will do 100% of the time. You display the same integrity upwards as you do across and down. (just an aside here, you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity any time)


You must lead yourself in such a way that the person above you does not feel as if you require much help from them. You control your own attitude and keep it positive as much as humanly possible. You choose your words well and seldom just spout off the first thing that comes to mind. 


And then there’s this…you let them devour your ego food!


You allow them to sometimes, often, or even frequently take your success as their own. (I told you this was complicated) You take on assignments that your leader may receive credit for doing, you do more than you are required to do knowing full well that “others” may never know it was you who accomplished so much. 


I know from personal experience how truly challenging and frustrating that can be but here’s a question for you: are you leading to lead or are you leading for some type of personal glory?


If you’re leading to lead that means you lead because you want to make a difference; your motives are not selfish they are selfless. That’s a huge difference that allows you to feed your own ego even after giving much of your ego food to someone else. 


YOU know what you did and if you’re truly leading to lead, if you’re truly leading for the benefit of others and not yourself, then that is enough. More than enough actually. 

Leadership comes from many levels within an organization, it also goes in many directions. If you’re experiencing the frustration that comes with following a leader who doesn’t lead then do what real leaders do, stop complaining and start leading…today.

26 thoughts on “The Challenge of Frustration

      1. Leadership for ‘glory’ is not leadership. Often takes a long time and some heartache to accept this.

  1. Hi Steve,

    Love the article, just want to make sure of one thing before I share with others. The last sentence should ‘some’ be ‘stop’ or am I not getting that sentence?

    Thank you! Love the article!


  2. So from a leadership perspective I totally get this. And with the right motives then I’ll be happy with the results.

    Looking at it from a career perspective, you are sort of dependent upon someone noticing that you do something or you won’t be there very long.

    For example, I’m happy to let my boss take credit for things I do but when performance review time comes and the bosses’ boss asks what I have done this year, how does that work? (Real story)

    1. That’s a great real life question. We can’t be shy about sharing our accomplishments during review time. In preparing (yes you should prepare too) for your review I’d go back through my calendar and see where I had invested my time. I’d simply share that info during the review process along with the “returns” on that time investment. You don’t have to take anything away from your boss to point out your own roll in making that successful outcome come about. But here’s the real deal, your boss can only “hide” your accomplishments from the people about him and you for so long, sooner or later lots of people, unless they are completely oblivious, figure out where the real success is coming from. That’s why people sometimes pass the boss up in the org chart, maybe not all at once but there are lots of people who are reporting to people who at one time where below them on an org chart. The cream ALWAYS rises to the top, sometimes it just takes longer than others.

  3. Just a question, Steve… I absolutely agree that it’s my job to pass the credit for all the work my team does over to the team members. Showing them off to the world as competent and reliable is my job. But if I’m also letting my supervisor take credit for my work, where does that leave me? How do I show that I’m adding any value whatsoever?

    This isn’t a criticism of your post — it’s just something I’m struggling with.

    1. It is a struggle to be sure. I might have too much faith that the right people will see where the real success is coming from. Along with sharing the credit for success with your boss you also need to be someone fearless in letting it be known that you had a role in the success. Not in a bragging way but in a matter of fact way.
      For instance just letting people in the organization know your proud of “the” accomplishment, not “your” accomplishments but “the” accomplishment. The people above and around your boss will figure it out, it may take a little longer but it will also increase your credibility as a leader when they realize you’re willing to help build others up.

  4. The difficult thing is to be passed over multiple times for promotion by those who do not have the skills for the leadership position and who rely heavily on your experience and talents to be trained on how to perform their job. After 32+ years, it is very disheartening. While I understand this concept in general, It is worse being taking advantage of over half of your career. The good old boy system is alive and well and talented people are being taken advantage of in the process. Selection is not very often based on talent and merit.

    1. That can certainly be true. I think it depends a lot on the culture of the organization, admittedly I’ve been blessed to work in a “people first” culture for a long time.

  5. This suggests that the supervisor can be influenced by the proposed strategy. Too often this is not the case. In such situations the individual needs to consider the possibility of finding a new supervisor.

    1. You are correct, sometimes you do need to remove yourself from an unhealthy situation. But…. I would give it time before I bailed. I wouldn’t say “too” often it’s not the case, it does happen that the “boss” is so hapless that a persons efforts are never seen, but that is more rare than people think.

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