As a leader in your organization, who’s got your back? Are the people you work with watching out for you, or do you find yourself covering your six to keep from being stabbed in the back?
I’m a huge supporter of the new “Got Your Six” campaign to unite nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners to support our veterans. The commercials touch my heart when they explain how “got your six” means we’ve got our veterans’ backs as they transition from military service to civilian life.
They also remind me of lessons I learned in pilot training about how to keep enemy pilots from maneuvering to my ultimate position of vulnerability: my six o’clock position – the blind spot directly behind me where I wouldn’t recognize I was about to be killed. Translated into corporate language: where someone is about to make us look stupid or incompetent without us realizing it.
I’ve got the stick for a minute.
“Covering your six” is what pilots have wingmen for. Wingmen fly behind and above (or below) their lead to make sure no one sneaks up on them. Pretty easy analogy to apply to the corporate world, but who’s really going to watch your back in the dog-eat-dog of office politics?
Your followers, that’s who. The ones who trust you and know you have their backs as well.
When a leader is intentional about creating an environment of trust and cooperation in the office, coworkers watch out for each because they want the organization to succeed. It’s much more difficult to blindside an entire group of people watching out for each other than it is an individual outside the circle of trust.
You build that environment of trust by having non-negotiable integrity and demonstrating you both care more about your employees than you do yourself (compassion), and you can and will use their efforts for the good of the organization (competence).
You instill that trust only if your actions are consistent with your words. If you’re one who talks about others behind their backs, you can assume you’re also being talked about. If there is even a hint that you might sacrifice one of your people for your benefit, you’re headed for a Julius Caesar ending.
Now, I’m not Pollyannaish, and I’ve certainly worked in places where the motto was something like “it’s not enough that I succeed; others must fail.” Competition can be fierce, and insecure or power-hungry people backstab from a variety of motivations.
But you can’t focus on helping your employees achieve great things if you’re always sitting in the corner with your back to the wall. You’ve got to be out there doing your best for them, trusting them the way they trust you. That’s the leader’s role, and while it’s vulnerable, it doesn’t have to be unsafe.
So who’s got your six? It’s up to you.