What Does it Mean to Have your Employee’s Back?

Let me share a short story about a boss who had my back.

I had spent thousands of dollars of the company’s money.

It was my first trip to the high-power test lab and I was nervous. I was the lead mechanical engineer on a major project to design a breakthrough electrical product. I was confident in our design but still a little worried. An electrical shock of 15,000 volts is violent and, despite my calculations, I knew anything could go wrong.

I spent the morning getting everything ready for the first test.

By noon, it was go-time. There was no backing down.

Less than one second after the voltage was applied, my worst fears were realized. The product exploded violently. Parts flew off in every direction. It wasn’t just a failure – it was an absolute disaster.

I had failed spectacularly.

I knew I had to call my boss and I knew it wouldn’t be good. I would probably lose my job for this. I was discouraged. My days in design engineering were probably over.

I called my boss and explained what had happened. Expecting the worst, I was shocked at his response.

He said to me, “Do you know why it failed?” My answer was yes. He then asked, “Do you know how to fix it?” Again, my answer was also yes. Without any emotion, he said, “Well, get back here and get the redesign done so you can return to the lab.”

Right then I knew – my boss had my back.

Instead of chastising me, he encouraged me.

Instead of losing my job, he had given me a new mission.

My respect for him skyrocketed.

My respect for him skyrocketed. Click To Tweet

I knew I had a good boss and I wanted to make him proud. And I did. I returned to the lab a short month later and passed every test.

We were the first to the market with this new technology and our business was extremely successful because of it.

This happened to me more than 20 years ago and I can still remember exactly how I felt that day. I felt empowered knowing I had a boss who would stand behind me even if I made a mistake.

Unfortunately, many bosses don’t understand the power of supporting their employees.

Many bosses don’t understand the power of supporting their employees. Click To Tweet

Too many bosses won’t back up their team members when bad things happen. As soon as anything casts a shadow on these bosses, they abandon their people. They don’t want to get in trouble themselves. They are looking out for their own careers. They walk away and let the employee take the fall.

This is the worst type of boss.

When something goes wrong, they immediately leave employees hanging – or worse, they throw them under the bus.

These bosses want all the glory but they don’t want to take any blame for failures.

These bosses want all the glory but they don’t want to take any blame for failures. Click To Tweet

What’s worse is that everyone in the organization knows this and it deeply affects the culture. When employees know they have a boss that won’t back them up if anything bad happens, they stop taking chances. They stop trying new things. They stop pushing the envelope of what’s possible.

They’re afraid to fail and fear grinds the organization to a halt. The organization becomes stagnant and good people start looking for other opportunities.

I like this quote from Hendry Stuart Mackenzie Burns:

“A good manager is [someone] who isn’t worried about [their] own career but rather the careers of those who work for [them].” 

So how about you?

Do you have your employee’s back? Or are you in it just for yourself?

The difference will determine your effectiveness as a leader.

If you like this story, get a copy of my latest book – “I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following”  It is filled with 23 short stories like this on how you can become a more effective leader.


By the way, If you want to get more out of your daily commute, listen to my podcast, Deep Leadership.  It’s available on all podcast apps.

And my best-selling leadership book, I Have the Watch, is also available on Audible for your commuting pleasure.

2 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to Have your Employee’s Back?

  • I can fathom a guess on why people act in these ways.

    Often, a non-supportive boss belongs to the old school mentality of being tough as nails at everything. They believe punishment and constant criticism is the best way to motivate people to do their best work. A lot of people imbibe this as young people from their own parents, and they just tend to keep on going like it with everyone they meet.

    Being a good boss is about a different view of the world: it is about believing that people are generally good, and they want to do the right things. And they view their job as the boss as an enabler of letting people do good work.

    Where these 2 diverging viewpoints come from (besides the parents) is anyone’s guess. But challenging this worldview is at the heart of changing behavior.

    • Studies have shown that the second type of boss is more effective in the long term yet many companies still embrace the first type of boss. They like the short term results provided by the Old School boss but they don’t truly appreciate the problems left in their wake. Thank you for your insights!

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