There is an expression, “lead, follow or get out of the way”. Unfortunately some leaders have a different version: “lead, confuse your followers and get in the way”. Instead of helping their team members along the road to success, these leaders become the biggest roadblocks to success. These are people who never quite comprehended the concept of setting people up for success. They may or may not be aware of what they are doing, either way they excel at setting people up for failure. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons (aside from just plain old incompetency) that cause leaders to be barriers to success as opposed to champions for success.
- They are a prisoner of their own quirks – This is a person who really does not mean to sabotage you and the team. They just are not exercising self-awareness or self-control over some of their own behaviors. Consider the leader who waits until the last minute to review and signoff an important document and then kicks it back to you because page three of ten is missing a coma. The missing coma does not change the meaning of the sentence, but he can’t stand that there is an error and if he signs the document that error reflects poorly on him.How can this be mitigated? In the example given here you need to review and re-review your documentation to make sure it is perfect. You might also consider setting a deadline which allows for this behavior. Perhaps plan for this person to require multiple reviews and rejections of your document. If it typically takes this person three times to approve a document that should be part of your plan.Whatever quirk it is that your leader exhibits, get to know that quirk and come up with strategies to work with that quirk.
- They are afraid to move forward – This could be a new leader or a leader who has not been rewarded for taking initiative. This person is so cautious that you wonder how she makes it to work each day. Just getting out of bed must be terrifying for her. The problem is that her inability to act is delaying your team.Get to know her and understand the basis for her hesitancy. Once you understand what holds her back, you can help her keep moving. You do this by addressing her concern and providing an answer or solution for it. For example, you need a change request signed and the change requires additional funding for your project. If you know she comes from a place of hating to ask for money; bring the change request and some suggestions for how the funding can be obtained. Perhaps there is a lower priority project which is NOT being worked on and has funds available. Perhaps YOU volunteer to go make the request for the money. Perhaps you include the requesting customer in the meeting to help make the case for the change.
- They do not know what they want – Sometimes this person’s behavior is similar to the person who is afraid to move forward. You cannot get him to commit. The difference here is indecision. Granted, that indecision could be brought about by fear of making the wrong choice. He may need to see multiple options before making a commitment. He also may need to vacillate between a couple of options before landing on the option he prefers. It is frustrating, but this is how he works, it is how he thinks and how he makes decisions.Think ‘prototype’ when you bring something to him to review. Understand that you will need to go through a back and forth with him. This does not mean bring him one really good idea and two ill-conceived ideas just to give him choices. It does mean give him good approaches and plan for his review and prototyping process in your schedule and strategy.
- They think, “It was difficult for me, it should be difficult for you too.” – Aren’t you lucky? This is the leader who is going to toughen you up. Her climb to the top was not easy and your climb should not be either. She will make unreasonable demands of you and the team. She will create crises just to see how you handle them. She and Murphy’s Law work in tandem. At the worst possible time she will throw something at you and the team just to teach you a lesson. If you do not pass the test, she will berate you. If you pass the test she will ignore you.Be prepared. Keep your eyes wide open. You probably cannot get her to stop testing you (although eventually once she believes you have proven yourself she might let up); but you can anticipate the types of challenges she throws your way and when. For example if things have been quiet for a while, she is probably getting ready to send an obstacle in your direction very soon. You can also build some ‘obstacle time’ into your schedule. But if she suspects that you have, of course she will cut your schedule.
- They really are sabotaging you – Unfortunately there are people who really do not want you to succeed. It really stinks when you work for this person. Maybe he was not the one who promoted you. Maybe he wants to be the hero and wants you to fail so that he can swoop in and save the day. Maybe he feels threatened by you and wants to ensure you do not outperform him. Maybe he is just crazy. You do not always know why, but you sense that he is trying to sabotage you and you could be right.You cannot be too prepared. In this situation you need to think about what he may possibly do to sabotage your work. Keep your eyes and ears open. I am sorry but you simply cannot let your guard down. Keep a clear record of communications to and from him. Try to interact with him in front of other (and hopefully) neutral parties. Of course this is a situation that you do not want to remain in for the long run.
I know you see the key to navigating these human roadblocks. Understand that you cannot make them stop their behavior, but you can observe them, learn about them and their behavior and then adopt mitigating strategies.
After all, human roadblock me once, shame on you. Human roadblock me twice, shame on me.