01/25/2012 11:09 am ET Updated Mar 26, 2012

Stepping Up as a Leader When the Tweet Hits the Fan

A number of articles appeared in 2011 that focused on events at Twitter, the start-up company that gave us a new platform for breaking news, social interaction and information gathering.

The articles make it sound like the company is dysfunctional: Turf battles, favoritism and alpha posturing, to name some of the issues.

But you can say this about a lot of high tech companies with big potential, financial backing, and absent any clear vision of what the company (and its members) will grow to become. What most people want to know is, I work here. What do I do to find progress in my job when the Tweet is hitting the fan?

Entrepreneurs actually thrive in this kind of environment, but only for so long. Ready to take on the world, and passionate about calculated risk and seeking progress for communities everywhere, some of the most gifted people in tech end up at these companies.

As entrepreneurs get deeper into their jobs and the real life threads of bureaucracy and profit and value-seeking gather, the threads become ropes that seem to bind employees into something less meaningful and more frustrating.

You may be one of those caught in the middle of everything, wishing that the adults in the building would step up and start acting like the leaders their titles imply. Unfortunately, it may be a while (if ever) before those people get their act together. But the situation isn't hopeless for you.

Here are a few ideas on how you can step up as a leader, regardless of your position or role in your company, and loosen up some of those ties that bind:

Focus on what needs fixing instead of debating what should be done.
In young companies, people spend a lot of time, energy, and effort arguing about things such as strategy, product attributes, and value proposition. All of these subjects have plenty of room for interpretation and therefore difference of opinion. Unless it's in your best interest to battle until you are the last one standing, wiser to focus your talents and efforts on the real problems that are slowing down progress.

Take responsibility. Here is the greatest career development insight I have ever heard... people will give you the authority to fix the problem once you take the responsibility. How many times have you been in a meeting where no one is stepping up to tackle a nasty problem? Everyone's in the game when they're complaining; all eyes look away when someone brings up "Who's going to fix this?" That is your golden opportunity to step up as a leader (in action, not title) and say you will take responsibility for fixing the problem. People will be so glad they avoided responsibility; they will gladly give you the authority to fix it. And with authority comes access to resources (people and money) to help you fix the problem. Don't take this to mean you should accept blame for the problem (diplomatically make that clear when taking responsibility). Nor should you assume you need to fix the problem all by yourself -- taking responsibility automatically opens up doors unavailable to you before. That's why this is the greatest career development insight I have ever heard.

Save your new ideas. It's far too tempting to think the best way for you to help out a crazy situation is to share your brilliant new idea to your boss and anyone else who will listen to you. If the environment is truly that chaotic, people view your new idea as just one more thing they have to deal with. New ideas are risky, is it a good idea, how much money would it require, how do I get people to stop the old way and adopt this new way, what if it doesn't deliver what it promises? Rather than add to your boss' stress, reduce some of it by taking responsibility for a problem driving him or her crazy. Once you make that problem go away, they are much more likely to hear you out about your great idea. That's the beauty of quid pro quo.

Don't wait; take responsibility for a problem slowing down progress.