Gut Check: Do You Have The Backs Of Your Colleagues?

November 18, 2015 Vince Molinaro


Gut Check: Do You Have The Backs Of Your Colleagues?

This week, I had the privilege of being the opening keynote speaker for The Art of Leadership Conference in Toronto. The venue was packed with almost 2500 delegates. Another great event organized by The Art of Productions company.

I shared the stage with the very funny Chester Elton, Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, John Mackey, cofounder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, and Captain Richard Phillips, hero of the high seas.

In my opening speech, I shared ideas from my book The Leadership Contract. I talked about the importance of building a strong community of leaders, something that too few organizations take the time to do today.

I asked this audience the one question that I’ve asked leaders all over the world: what kind of leadership culture would enable you to be at your best?

Then, to emphasize my point, I listed a series of answers to that question that nobody would give:

  • “I thrive in a climate of apathy”
  • “I do my best in a fiercely internally competitive climate
  • “I will excel knowing that every day my colleagues are there to back stab me, sabotage me or drive me under the bus”

When you really press people to consider this question, the answers are pretty predictable. “I thrive in an environment of high trust, high aspiration to be great leaders and where everyone has each other’s back.”

After my presentation, I went back stage and spoke with comedian and executive Ron Tite the emcee for the conference. I love working with Ron. He’s super smart, funny and has a great perspective on what it takes to run successful companies. Ron immediately said he loved the idea of having each other’s back. He then shared something he experienced in his years in improvisational comedy.

At world famous the Second City comedy troupe, where Ron trained, every show begins with the comics huddling backstage and patting one another’s back. As they do this, they say to each other, “I got your back!”

This ritual helps create a positive environment of mutual support and trust. Rob said that fuels originality and creativity – especially in improv where every person is putting themselves out on a limb for every performance.

So the rest of the day I kept thinking of Ron’s words. I wondered what it would be like if the leaders in an organization started off their day with a similar ritual.

I’ve actually experienced the power of this from time to time in my own work. I have found it particularly valuable when I’ve noticed a colleague or client under high stress and worried about the outcomes of a project. In that moment, when you can feel their angst, I’ve looked at them as said, “I’ve got your back!”

Now, I didn’t just say those words. This isn’t a gimmick. When the opportunity arose, I stepped up to support these colleagues in whatever way I could. If you promise to have someone’s back, you have to be willing to do just that.

I’ve also experienced that same feeling when my own colleagues have said the same to me. I feel reassured that they are there for me, no matter what will happen. I can count on them.

And this is where the concept of having someone’s back meets my idea about the need to build a community of leaders.

It is essential that our organizations have a community of leaders, to share, support and grow together. One of the best ways of building that community is to let your colleagues know you have their backs.

Challenge yourself to show up with a commitment to back up your colleagues. It will change the nature of your relationships and elevate your collective performance.

This week’s leadership gut check asks: do you have the backs of your colleagues?



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