Pushover Leadership

It might sound quirky, but something I frequently see is how tech executives who are passionate about their roles and worked hard to get them then go on to essentially give up on their independence and agency. Some start their roles like that, and others slowly morph into it. Either way, it is a poor example of leadership. Let’s stop it.

Backseat Drivers

The question essentially boils down to whether one considers one’s role as a genuine leader role or merely babysitting a team. Are you the tech equivalent of a shift manager at McDonald’s or a leader? Most of you are thinking the latter but regularly miss the mark on what that leadership means.

For example, are you deferring to your peers and CEO too much? Alright, you report to the CEO, but that doesn’t mean that the CEO should tell you how to run your team. I regularly see VPs and CTOs complain about things like the team not being allowed to shape the process as they’d like. “The founders think retrospectives are a waste of time,” well, I think those founders ought to find something else to worry about.

The same goes for VPs that throw their hands in the air and agree to live with whatever weird demands they get. They suffer for months working with people they would never have hired and who are clearly a bad fit because the CEO wanted them. And don’t get me started about teams that aren’t “allowed” to write tests because of time constraints or whatever.

Losing Ownership

The direct effect of agreeing to all these is losing your sense of agency and ownership of your team. When the team inevitably misses deadlines or has issues, you find it hard to take it personally because you’ve grown estranged from it. It’s odd and uncomfortable, and you only do it because you have to, not because you feel connected to it.

The sad part is that many simply agreed to these demands without ever attempting to push back. After all, it is not as if CEOs and founders are malicious and want people to have sub-par working environments. They are trying to do what they think is best. The problems are that they aren’t the ones who have to be directly accountable for what the team does and that they usually aren’t better suited to make these decisions than you are.

Stepping Up

I often say that tech executives need to take the Spiderman sentence and turn it around:

”With great responsibility should come great power”

When you are responsible for such a team and the delivery and execution of the company’s strategy, you should at least have the freedom to manage the team as you think is best. You were given the role for a reason. You have a certain mandate; wield it. There’s nothing wrong with telling your boss that you do not agree with their idea or that it will achieve the opposite of what they’re aiming for.

Just as we know that empowered teams should receive objectives and be allowed to come up with their own plans to achieve those, so should you have goals and the freedom to work towards them. I do not see it as rudeness to say, “You brought me here to do something. Let me do it my way.” Thus, by claiming your agency and your ownership of the team, you can unshackle yourself and create a team that is genuinely yours. It might succeed, or it might fail, but you will know you have no one else to blame.

Furthermore, my experience shows that founders and CEOs often get into micromanagement precisely because they feel they lack this sort of initiative. Not a week goes by without a CEO telling me that they are looking for people that would come to them with ideas as opposed to having to tell their people what to do. You can be that dream executive: take the initiative.