Frustrated Followers

I’ve been fortunate for the vast majority of my career to work for and with leaders who were Authentic Leaders. They cared for their people, they were smart and they knew what they were doing. 

Except maybe for one guy. He was my first boss out of college. He didn’t seem to have a very high EQ and his IQ was virtually nonexistent. (Or so it appeared to me) He was functionally illiterate, his communication skills were subpar to say the least. 

But he was my boss. My boss! I had a brand new Engineering Degree and had been anointed by non other than myself as one of the smartest people on the planet. It was an impossible situation…I was a genius and my boss was not. So I set about fixing that injustice.

I decided, at least subconsciously, to be a “difficult” employee. Difficult might be a bit of an understatement…I was determined to make his life a living hell. I mean how hard could it be for a genius such as myself to chase this knucklehead out of the company. My goal was to do whatever was necessary for this guy to no longer be my boss.

I’ll spare you the ugly details of what I determined “difficult” to be. But he and the company we worked for had incredible staying power. Despite my best efforts they kept trying to find a way for us to work together and it took me two long years to finally reach my goal. 

I quit!

Apparently his 20 plus years at a family run company meant something to the owners. They also valued the skills I bought with me. 

It would be several years after I quit before I’d realize what a terrible employee I was. It would be a few more years before I’d realize what a terrible person I was to that boss. 

I’d made the horrible mistake of not seeing the value in someone different than me. My failure to see the value in another human being caused ME great frustration. I took that out on both my boss and any coworkers who happened to agree with him. 

That the man had certain “gaps” was never in doubt. My mistake was in thinking it was my job to expose those gaps. In reality part of my job was actually to fill those gaps. 

He was not technically proficient, I was. It was my job to help him use his strengths by filling his technical gaps. I failed at that…miserably. 

When your leader isn’t all that you think they should be don’t allow yourself to be frustrated. Don’t focus on their weaknesses, focus on their strengths. I can guarantee you that somebody saw those strengths and that’s why they are in the position that are in. Help them use their strengths by filling whatever gaps you can. 

Whether it’s in your job description or not you should understand that one of your roles is to support the other people in your organization. Especially those above you on the organizational chart. The only exception to that “rule” is if that support would include doing something illegal or unethical.

When you’re feeling frustrated by someone above you in your organization, or even someone at your level, remember this truth: being frustrated prevents you from using YOUR strengths. Being frustrated hurts YOU more than anyone else. 

So don’t focus on the things that frustrate you, focus instead on the things you can control. One of those things is helping the people who frustrate you to not frustrate you. That’s a whole lot more productive than constantly complaining. 

Not Every Leader Leads – Part One

Most people reading this will have at one time or another worked for someone who is in a leadership position but doesn’t lead. Maybe you’re in that spot right now. 

 

So what does a person do when their leader doesn’t lead? 

 

There are three choices. The first one is to change where you work. Running from the problem is too easy and besides, there are no guarantees that your leader at the next place will be any better.

 

The second option is to spend every working minute, and sadly many non-working minutes as well, being frustrated with the person who is supposed to be leading you to success. That ruins your relationship with that person. Let’s not forget, just because they are a bad leader doesn’t mean they don’t have some influence on your future. Being frustrated and complaining about it all the time can also wreck other important relationships in your life. 

 

Friends may stand with you at first but after a while they begin to wonder why you don’t do something about it and they begin to drift away from you. Eventually your family may even follow them out of your life. 

 

I do not recommend the second option. 

 

The third option is the only one of benefit to you. It also has the advantage of benefiting the person who is supposedly leading you and it even benefits your organization. 

 

It’s a two-step process.

 

The first step is dealing with the frustration. You can’t will it away. You must meet it head on and take concrete action to minimize it. I say minimize because you can’t ever completely eliminate it (at least I never met anyone who could) but you can make it manageable. 

 

Dealing with the frustration requires that you understand it’s not your job to “fix” your leader. It’s also not your job to point out all of their weaknesses. Your job is to add value to everyone you come into contract with, that includes your leader. 

 

To do that you need to build a good working relationship with your leader. Look for things you have in common and try to identify their strengths. DO NOT say they have no strengths, some will be easier to find than others but everyone has strengths. Clearly somebody saw something in that person because they were placed in a leadership position. Try hard to see those same strengths yourself. 

 

Next, figure out ways to help your leader use their strengths more effectively. Do that while filling in whatever gaps they may have with your own strengths. Yes, you may need to sacrifice your own ego to do this but that’s better than beating your head against the wall in frustration all day long.

 

You need to take some pride in what you’re doing. It might seem on the surface that helping your leader succeed and look good is backwards. But if you’re a leader yourself you’ll have no problem doing just that. You are helping another person grow and that is the essence of leadership. 


In my next post we’ll look at the second half of the process. It’s the part where you “lead-up” and use your influence to help your leader grow even more. The cool part of that is when you help grow the people above you in an organization you’re helping yourself grow at the same time.