Ep 105: Pitfalls to Leading Up and How to Lead Through Them

Good leadership begets more good leadership, and bad leadership begets more bad leadership. It is so much easy to follow orders from a good boss. But for most of us, we find ourselves in challenging places where both good and bad leadership exists, and we experience polarity. It’s always a positive thing when we magnetize towards a transformational leader and be influenced by them. However, we struggle inside when confronted with a bad boss. In that kind of situation, how do we respond? In this episode of Get Lit, Adam Quiney talks about some leadership pitfalls and gives some collected examples we can relate to our own experiences at work or in life on how to become a good leader in the face of poor leadership.

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Pitfalls To Leading Up And How To Lead Through Them

In this episode, we’re going to talk about some, maybe you could call them pitfalls or challenging places when it comes to leading up and how you may lead through them. On the heels of the last episode, we’re going to go through some common examples of poor leadership. In the face of poor leadership, we tend to lead poorly. You can think of it like a magnet or some gravity that pulls us in a direction. Good leadership begets more good leadership and bad leadership begets more bad leadership.

When you have good and bad leadership brought together you’re going to experience polarity. It’s like when you bring two magnets of the same pole together or maybe a different pole, I’m not sure. There’s a battle, a natural fight or tension that gets created and whoever can most hang into their pole or whoever can most hold out is the one that will tend to magnetize the other person towards them. What that means in less weird words, when you are confronted by bad leadership, your natural tendency is going to be towards bad leadership. You will tend to abdicate your leadership because someone else is doing poorly at leading.

When someone is around someone committed to being a potent leader, a transformational leader, a powerful leader to bring in the being of a leader, that will tend to magnetize them up into being more of a leader. These are all submitted by people when I asked for responses so a big thank you to everyone that was generous enough to reach out to send me examples of poor leadership that they’ve struggled with. If you have examples, situations or places where you’ve come up against poor leadership and you’re like, “How do I be a leader in the face of this,” send them to us. We love hearing that. I’ll give you an email address that you can send them to at the end of this episode. For now, let’s move onwards to bad leadership.

Challenging Leadership Situation #1: Withholding Communication

The first challenging leadership situation we’re going to look at is a superior or a boss. Most of these will be bosses because we’re talking about leading up. The reason we’re talking about that now is because that tends to be the place where people struggle the most. We’ve got a boss withholding communication, unwilling to speak openly and have everything on the table. In these kinds of examples, I’d hear from people who had bosses and leaders that didn’t communicate openly across all channels. Maybe they’re hiding salaries, they’re wanting you to go do this thing but don’t tell Bob over there because he thinks this is his project and I don’t want him to find out.

Essentially what we’re dealing with here is a breakdown in integrity. Integrity is where our thoughts, our words and our actions are aligned. The impact in these situations is you end up with a breakdown in power and trust. You end up with teams that keep secrets. They don’t know who they can talk to, who knows what and don’t know what’s safe to share. A breakdown in trust makes everything in the organization or at least the immediate group, slow down to a crawl. You end up losing efficiency, along with a whole bunch of other stuff.

Everyone wants to be a leader, but not everyone likes the consequences of being a leader. Share on X

It was Stephen Covey Jr. who wrote a book on this called The Speed of Trust. If you’re interested in learning more about the nature of trust in organizations and the role that plays that is a great book. In these situations, these cases, it’s on you to honor your integrity. I want to be clear that there is a distinction between a leader having a clear reason for why not share some piece of information and being a systemic thing.

For example, if someone is about to be let go in two weeks and the leader comes to him says, “We’ve got someone that we’re letting them go. We’re a little concerned about them doing stuff. We don’t know how they’re going to react or respond. I want to let you know so you can manage your project accordingly but could you not share that with them?” That would be different than a leader that’s doing all of that stuff I described to Bob keeping secrets as a systemic thing. You have to use some discernment here. You have to check this out and it might be a conversation with your boss you have to bring.

To deal with this, you have to get clear on where your line is. What is your integrity in the matter? What are your thoughts, words and actions? They must stay in alignment for you to have your own integrity. That’s what you have to model to your leader. The first place might be to let them know that it doesn’t work for you to pretend or lie about something to another team member, if they asked you about it, “If you’ve asked me to run this and bypass Bob but if Bob comes to me, that won’t work. I’m not going to lie to them. I’m not going to do that. It won’t work for me. I don’t think it’s going to work for Bob and that’s going to break down trust. I’m not up for that.” From there, you can bring that back, you can say, “Given that, what do you want me to do in that situation? Is this a conversation you want me to bring to Bob? Do you want to have the conversation? How’s it going to go?”

You want to be clear that you’re not going to go advertise what the leader is asking you to keep quiet about. Simply in order to lead, there are certain places that you need to be able to speak to be open and to be free. There’s a difference between, “As soon as you tell me about Bob, I’m shutting that off the mountaintops and I’m able to do this but if Bob comes to me, he’s going to find out the truth because that’s where I stand on this.” It’s important to notice that there’s a bit of a distinction between being savvy and responsible for what you share and remaining integrity in integrity with what you share.

We’ll talk more about that in the next episode. If you’re curious about that, don’t worry, it’s coming. Share with your leader what you need to share and be clear about why. If they take issue with that be clear about the impact of not doing so, “I want you to do this. I want you to toe the line with Bob.” You might need to let them know, “Here’s what will happen as a result of me trying to keep this secret or avoiding sharing this communication.”

Leadership Pitfalls: Integrity is where our thoughts, our words, and our actions are.


What you’re doing here is you’re modeling integrity. You’re sharing the truth. You’re being clear about the impact. You’re communicating openly and upfront, “I’m willing to not go and share. I’m not going to go tell him now you told me but if he comes to me, I’m going to tell them. Tell me is there something you want to have happened? One way or the other, if someone comes and asks me a question, I’m not going to lie to them. I could tell him to go talk to you, would you like that? He’s going to come to talk to you and it’s on you to do that if you want.” You’re in the practice of being in integrity. Holding your truth at the moment.

It’s important to note that when a leader is trying to manage things by resisting integrity, meaning they’re trying to manage whatever’s going on by keeping secrets and resisting integrity, there’s predictably a breakdown on the horizon as the truth will come out. In standing for something different, meaning you’re not willing to toe the line of lying secrets or whatever. You might have to be willing to be moved or replaced in your job. This is part of leadership. You standing for what you believe in and remaining and integrity, rather than victimizing yourself to something that doesn’t work for you. This is why leadership is challenging. We want to be leaders but we don’t want to be with the consequences that come with it.

I assert that if you hold yourself as a person of integrity and continue to stand in that place, in the short term, you may see yourself get stepped over. You may see yourself get moved out of the way. In the long term, we noticed that. We notice people have integrity because it is a rarity. We notice people that say what they believe and they partner with a leader in finding ways that it can work but nevertheless are clear about what works for them and what doesn’t. That gets moved up because leadership is magnetic.

Challenging Leadership Situation #2: A Boss Who’s Unwilling To Show Up And Lead Onto The Direct Report

It’s a bit of a tricky one because as soon as we’re in conversations about lying or secret-keeping, it gets a little nasty so it’s a challenging one to be a leader in. If you’re willing to be with whatever shows up, it’s also a place that forges potent leadership. Here’s the next one, “I need you to tell me how you want to be led or you haven’t told me how you’d like to be led.” This is an example where the supervisor, the boss, whatever is putting their unwillingness to show up and lead on to the direct report. You tell me how to lead. That’s the antithesis of leadership. It’s an easy thing to be frustrated about this and insists our boss isn’t willing to show up and lead.

That’s true but remember what causes leadership is a willingness to be a leader in the face of whatever is showing up. In this situation, what does the leader do? First, a leader listens to the request, “I want you, the requesters, to tell me how to lead you.” On its surface, this isn’t such a bad request. After all, a leader develops leadership so here’s an opportunity for you to develop leadership above. Before you go anywhere, you might ask yourself, “Am I clear on what I want from my leader? How do I want them to lead me? What are my requests for them?” Because we’re always taking a look on our side to be responsible, “How have I been unwilling to share or show up as a leader in the face of this? How have I left them wondering this? How have I contributed to this?”

Leadership is a willingness to be a leader in the face of circumstances. Share on X

When your boss doesn’t provide you what you’ve asked for, what is there for you to bring as a leader the same way you would have direct reports. Usually, this is the point where you’ve shared with them. You’ve taken a look on your side, you can see, “I can see that I’ve not made it clear. I’ve fought you on your leadership. I can see that and I can see it that would leave you unsure of what you want from me. I get it. You’re asking me so the least I can do is provide you an answer to that. Here are the things I’d want from you. I want to see you doing your own work. I want to know what that looks like. I want to hear about that. I want to feel your humanity. I want to see you helping me stretch past my capacity and helping me find the gradient for me to play out in. I’d love it if you would read Get Lit.”

It doesn’t mean your boss is going to do any of these things. What it means is that he is asking you how you want to be led and you are honoring that request. That’s what a leader does. If they go, “I’m not going to do that stuff.” That’s okay. Your job is to be unattached to how they receive it. Your job is to be a leader and provide what they are asking for, “Here’s how I would like to be led by you.” You get to choose whether or not you’re going to do that. If you’re not going to do it then you now know what I would like, what do you see to take on from here, leader?

If they don’t provide you with what you’ve asked for what is there to do next as a leader and usually it’s something asking to sit down with them sharing that you noticed you asked for something specific in their leadership and that you weren’t getting it. Also, ask them if there is there anything in the way, “Is there anything more you need from me?” “You asked and I told you what I wanted but I don’t feel like I’m getting that. Is there something for us to create together?”

Rather than shoving it all back over there and making them wrong for what they’re not bringing, you’re continually working yourself out so you can come back to a conversation about partnering together. That’s what makes leadership powerful. That’s what has people let down their guard and practice something different. Remember here that a leader takes people at face value or if something is showing up that feels off, they do their own work first and get curious about it.

If you don’t feel the complaint that you haven’t shared on how to be led as valid, you may need to complete yourself first with how your leader has shown up in the past and bring this to them, “I heard you say that and I want to check and make sure that’s something that you want.” “Is the thing in the way that you don’t know what I want from you? I’m willing to share. I’ve thought about that upside down. I want to make sure that I’m not stepping over something or that there might be something different there for you. I have this sense and I’m willing to set it aside and trust what you’re telling me but I wanted to check it out with you.”

The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything

Lastly, for all of these, there’s always a follow. For all of these examples I’m giving, there’s always an opportunity for you to follow-up and say. “If I do this, Adam, they’ll say this. If I brought that to my boss and this is how they’d react,” that’s another way we get in. We step in our own way, as leaders because we’re now predicting the future. We’ve got a story about how things will go rather than getting ourselves complete in the past and doing whatever there is to do now, seeing what shows up and what happens next. We’re aiming to provide you with the entry point for your leadership and address what’s in the way in the immediate present. Who knows what happens on the other side of this?

Next, we have the situation where the leader tells you and you get too frustrated, sad, upset, angry, you’re too emotional and you need to button up. This is the leadership where the leader above you don’t have much space for your own capacity for emotions and wants you to get on with your life so you do what there is to do. This can be a challenging place to lead because you don’t have the responsible experience of your emotional range being modeled for you. What I mean by that is that when this is a complaint coming down from above, it’s typically because the leader above you do the opposite that you do. You get overwhelmed, frustrated, annoyed, angry and sad. They don’t allow themselves to feel any of their emotions. You get swept away and they do not allow that.

The first thing to do here is to be responsible for your own emotional range. You can check out episode 88 for more practice of this. You need to practice. You need to take a look on your side and be responsible for the impact your emotions are having on and in your workplace. You need to be willing to stand in the place that it’s okay to have emotions, provided they don’t get slimed on people. What that means is that you start to become in the practice of allowing the feeling of anger and of being responsible for it, “I’m feeling angry. I need to excuse myself for a second. I got to take an angry walk around the block. I will be back and I promise I’m going to get this handled.” That’s there. That is different from pretending we have no anger or shouting at people.

From here, from your willingness to start to get responsible, you can begin to make requests to the leader rather than having your emotions dictate what happens. Our emotions always guide us to something deeper but in order to get to that depth, we first have to honor our emotions responsibly and get clear on what it is we need and bring that need to our leader. If what you’re experiencing is overwhelming, what we tend to do from overwhelm is run around like a chicken with its head cut off. We may plant ourselves in our computer and try to type as fast as we can and freak out, run away, run around, start shouting, frothing at the mouth or whatever it is.

First, you have to be able to stand the strong back and an open front with that emotional experience. Meaning to allow yourself to experience the overwhelm to feel it in your body without running without letting it run you. Stand firm and let yourself feel it and ask yourself, “What do I need? What is this emotion telling me I need?” The immediate answer is usually the wrong one, “What I need is to have this done yesterday.” What do you need at this moment? Maybe some support. Maybe some help. That’s why it’s there is for you to bring your boss. That’s the thing to bring them.

You are responsible for the impact your emotions have on the world. Share on X

Let’s look on the other side. This is the leader that is unable to practice responsibility for their own emotions. They’re angry, sad, upset, frustrated and they yell. This tends to be frustrating to work with and scary. No one wants to be yelled at, made wrong or gotten in trouble. These kinds of leaders are especially problematic to work with because it requires a willingness to stand in the face of whatever emotional equality you don’t want to breathe to be with what they’re bringing and to raise what is and what is not acceptable. What are your boundaries? Before you bring anything to your boss, it’d be valuable to check in with yourself, “What are my boundaries? What am I a yes to and what am I a no to?”

If this was a friend or any other relationship, where’s the line drawn? My belief is no one should be yelled at, at work or frankly, anywhere. Yelling at someone in their face is a form of violence. That’s not appropriate and as a leader. Your job is to allow people the opportunity to have whatever experience they’re having and be a stand and a demand for them to do so responsibly. Your boss is allowed to be angry like you are. Frankly, if you are playing a high stakes game, if you are leaning way out over the edge of possibility, far beyond your comfort zone, it’s going to drive up some emotions like sadness, anger or whatever.

Your job, as a leader, is to be like, “I get that you’re angry. I’m not okay with being yelled at. I’m okay with you being angry. It’s a little scary but I can work myself out around that. I’m not okay with being angry so it’s not okay for you to direct that at me. If you’re angry, I need you to work that out or take it on responsibly. I need you to do something with it or ask me to leave for a little bit. I don’t care how you do. It’s not my job to fix that for you. I need you to know I’m not okay with having it directed at me.” This is a challenging place to stand and it’s what a leader does.

I remember when I was practicing law, my principal. I was an articling student, which means I was a lawyer who did all the lawyerly stuff but then had someone check his work to make sure I didn’t commit felonies or whatever. I would send him to go into my principal’s office and ask for support. I’d have a question. If he was feeling frustrated and he was in his stuff, he would put down his papers abruptly and go, “Listen carefully,” and he would give me a terse answer. I always felt stupid when he said those words, “Listen carefully.” Am I not listening carefully? What is the deal? I feel such a dickhead. I don’t want to go in and ask any more questions and yet I need to be told to listen carefully.

What I did was I realized that this doesn’t feel good. I don’t know what I’m meant to do. I waited until the moment it passed. We don’t want to bring something in the heat of the moment. That’s a mistake we often make. When someone’s getting angry, we try to go, “I’m going to set this person straight now,” because we’re keyed up. You need to be responsible. You need to go let yourself simmer down, let them simmer down and bring the conversation. I went back to his office a couple of hours later and said, “Do you have a second? Great. I noticed that when I bring a question to you, you tell me to listen carefully. I wonder if I am missing something? Am I not listening carefully? Because I’m working to understand and comprehend this. It’s challenging. I want to check and see if I am giving you the experience I’m not listening to you or that I’m being dense or something?”

Leadership Pitfalls: Stand for what you believe in and remain in integrity rather than victimize yourself to something that doesn’t work for you.


It was edgy to bring that and it is a beautiful thing because he paused and he was like, “I’m struggling. There’s a bunch going on for me. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and that’s my stuff showing up.” I created a beautiful thing for us. That’s what there is to do and this is all at a great edge. If you have someone punching walls and yelling in your face, maybe that’s the time to bring this to HR. When it’s something a little lower gradient, show up as a leader.

Challenging Leadership Situation #3: A Leader Who Steals The Spotlight

Hare’s our last thing, taking up the spotlight. Leaders that are taking up the spotlight are often unwilling to ask for the acknowledgment they’d like. I’m going to give you some examples of this. These are the leaders who might one, steal credit. They take credit for everything that you’ve done. They might start talking about you. They propose a toast and begin talking about how great their team is and it turns out, the toast is all about them and what they accomplished. It’s these things where they steal the spotlight. What’s at play here is an unwillingness to ask for the acknowledgment they’d like.

People steal the spotlight because they want it and they don’t know how to take it powerfully like a leader so what we do is we take it indirectly. We find slimy ways to stand in the spotlight and because it’s slimy, indirect and not owned powerfully, it feels gross and disgusting and we resent you for it. These leaders can show up as insecure. Ironically, they can struggle to receive praise and because they can’t receive it directly they then consequently steal it or try to give it to themselves as a way of getting it indirectly.

It’s classic fear and the thing that’s important for you to realize at the outset, this applies whether it’s someone you’re leaving down laterally up is that these people are scared and they are craving being seen. That is what is underneath all of this patterning and all of this behavior. Ironically, the way this tends to work is that when someone steals the spotlight, we resent them for it, we definitely don’t want to give them any of our attention. We turn our attention away and ignore them and that increases their fear that they’re irrelevant and not being seen, which then has them turn it up even more.

In these situations, we must model what we want to see more of. One, make a point of specifically asking for acknowledgment from your leader when you want it. It’s not a weakness to ask to be reminded of your greatness and what you provide. This is an essential aspect of your leadership. If you’re unwilling to ask for acknowledgment, why should you expect that you’ll get it? Leaders ask for what they need. For a refresher on getting your needs met, check out episode 46. In doing so, you are modeling the ability to ask someone for acknowledgment powerfully and to receive it directly.

The thing that the leader above you that would change their lives and the way they show up in the world, you’re modeling this. You’re not doing it so as to make them do something different. You’re doing it because you recognize in yourself a desire for some acknowledgment and are willing to ask for what you need. Second, make a point of acknowledging your leader when you notice they seem insecure. Point out when you see them brush off the acknowledgment, “I gave you some acknowledgment. It seemed you dismissed it.” Even more powerful way to do that is, “Can I acknowledge you? You’ve done something awesome. I’d like to acknowledge you.” “Sure. Whatever.”

You start to acknowledge them and they’re like, “Whatever that wasn’t such a big deal.” You say, “I want to acknowledge you. I noticed you’re brushing it off. Would you be willing to let this in?” “Sure,” and acknowledge them. Be willing to stand for people being acknowledged and to do that, you have to be willing to give it even when you don’t want to. Ask them if they’d be willing to receive what you have for them. Being willing to give what you want to receive is an essential aspect of leadership so put this into practice. Especially acknowledge people when your heart feels closed. That is the fastest way to open it back up and with an open heart, leadership goes much better.

Those are all the examples that we have. If you have some examples that you’re dying to hear, worked through and you’re like, “What about this? I want you to cover this,” you can send an email to PR@AdamQuiney.com and one, want to thank you. You can even say, “I’d like credit for this,” and we’ll give you some and we’ll give you a shout out. If you’ve got something a little situation that you think could call for better leadership and you’re not sure how that might be brought, let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

On the next one coming, we’ve got sharing responsibly versus sharing authentically. It’s an important distinction. It’s like the three stages of stepping into your speaking as a leader. The Forge is open for registration. If you want to be in conversations like this but cause the transformation and the leadership rather than learning about it, The Forge is the only place to be. It’s nine months. We have a retreat that will be gorgeous. It’s somewhere exciting, fun and delicious. The whole thing from top to bottom is transformational.

You leave a different leader than the one you came in as and not different like you’ll change your personality, you’ll leave a deeper and a fuller expression of yourself as a leader. We’re not taking away parts of who you are. We’re not removing or lobotomizing part of you. We’re helping you deepen yourself. That’s the promise of the Forge. If that sounds enticing to you if you feel yourself called to that, maybe check out the page that we’ve got up there. It’s EverGrowthCoaching.com/The-Forge. Thanks so much for reading. We’ll see you.


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