A Good Leader Has Your Back

Strong leaders support their employees and create a high performing culture. Those that don’t create an organization based on fear.

I had spent thousands of dollars of the company’s money to get to this point. It was my first trip to the high power test lab and I was nervous. I was the lead mechanical engineer on a project to design a new electrical apparatus that would be safer than anything available on the market. It would be a breakthrough if we succeeded.

I ran all the calculations. I was confident we would pass the test but I was worried our design might not survive the initial shock wave. An electrical short at 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 fault current was applied, my worst fears were realized. The gear exploded violently. Parts flew off in every direction. It wasn’t just a failure, it was an absolute disaster. I had failed spectacularly.

I walked over to the test bay and surveyed the scene. The product was completely destroyed. There was nothing left but a smoking carcass and the smell of melted copper. 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 as a design engineer were probably over.

I returned to the control room and called my boss. I explained what had happened. Expecting the worst, I was shocked at his response. He said, “Do you know why it failed?” My answer was yes. He then asked, “Do you know how to fix it?” Again, my answer was yes. Without any emotion, he said, “Well, get back here and get the redesign done so you can return to the lab.”

I knew right then my boss had my back. Instead of chastising me, he had encouraged me. Instead of losing my job, he had given me a new assignment. My respect for him skyrocketed. After that interaction, 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

A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. – Russell H. Ewing

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.

A good manager is a man who isn’t worried about his own career but rather the careers of those who work for him. – H. S. M. Burns

Unfortunately, many bosses these days don’t understand the power of supporting their employees. Too many bosses won’t back up their team members when bad things happen. As soon as anything casts a shadow on the leader, 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 leader. When something goes wrong, they immediately leave you hanging or worse, they throw you under the bus. They want all the glory, but they don’t want to take any blame for failures. 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 that fear grinds the organization to a halt. The organization becomes stagnant and good people start looking for other opportunities.

“A bad manager can take a good staff and destroy it causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.” – Unknown

I will never forget the kindness of that boss. He put me ahead of his own career. I’m sure he caught hell for the delays and expense but, he never mentioned anything to me. He knew I was doing something that hadn’t been done before and there was a chance for failure. He stood behind me and motivated me to get back up again and keep going. In the end, the product was a success and the company was enormously successful because he had my back.

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The Absent Leader

While most people identify micromanagement as the worst leadership style, there is another type of boss who is equally destructive to an organization, the absent leader.

This is the type of boss who is distant, aloof, or so busy that they don’t perform the basic duties of a leader. Leadership is about being present. It’s about setting the direction for your team and accomplishing goals. It’s also about resolving issues and conflicts when they arise.

When a leader isn’t present and isn’t carrying out these critical duties, chaos reigns.

Absent leaders create a situation where each employee does what they think is best for the organization. Most people care about their company and they want it to succeed but, when the leader steps away, there is not one person guiding the organization. Everybody decides what’s best to do. In the absence of clear direction, the organization will drift further from its mission.

The other problem is that one individual might choose to go one way and another person goes in a different way. This results in the organization getting pulled in many different directions. This creates internal conflict, unnecessary debate, and arguments which wastes precious time and resources.

When there is no leader, or when the leader is silent, chaos takes over.

Another example of this is rumors. When a leader doesn’t adequately explain what’s happening in an organization, especially during times of change, rumors will begin to get started. People will speculate on what’s going to happen. These rumors will run through an organization and do nothing but create worry and waste time, energy, and resources.

Rumors happen when leaders aren’t leading.

There are three ways to avoid becoming an absent leader.

Be present. Be there for your team. Listen to what’s going on in the organization. Walk around the workplace and be seen. Be alert for rumors and internal debates. Understand where people may be wasting energy and where divisiveness exists.

Lead the organization. Set the vision and the objectives. Establish clear boundaries and expectations. Let your team know what the priorities are. Be there to resolve conflicts and make hard decisions. Don’t shy away from your responsibilities.

Don’t stand for chaos. It’s the leader’s job to build a stable, smooth-running business. Chaos should always be the exception and not the rule. It’s good to have debate and discussion but allowing constant infighting and arguments only wastes the time and energy of an organization. It does not put you closer towards your goal. Take a look at your organization and see what’s going on. If there is chaos and confusion, you are not doing your job. You are an absent leader. You might have the leadership title. You might have the corner office. But you are not leading your team and that can be devastating to your organization.

Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

Do you want to be a better leader?  Sign up for my free leadership newsletter where I share important leadership tips and I don’t waste your time.