A saying I hear tossed around all the time is “I have your back”. It's a phrase people say to each other in both professional and personal situations, but few stop to think about what it truly means to have someone's back. When we work with our clients to develop their Performance Mindset skills, this idea of having each other’s back is often a key quality for both their individual and team mindset. When I hear this, I always dig deeper to see what it really means to the individuals of the group.
Having spent a significant portion of my life running into burning buildings with a team, I have a clear image of what "I have your back" means from an individual and team perspective. Unfortunately, when we lead team discussions about this topic, I am often surprised that the phrase is commonly used with very little clarity about what it means. In my experience, it combines elements of leadership, followership, and teamwork. When fully developed, it is one of the qualities that separates good teams from great teams, teams that work together from teams that change the world together, and teams that win a few games to teams that win a championship. However, simply saying “I have your back” doesn’t do much if the individuals of the group don’t have an understanding of how they will apply it to both themselves and their teams.
From an individual perspective, there are several things I must do to develop this "I have your back" quality. First, I must commit to excellence by creating the attitude and generating the effort necessary to achieve it. To do this, I need to do my share of the work while being open, willing, and proactive to fill gaps wherever I can. I need to display exceptional humility because my personal accolades are secondary to the greater achievements of the team. I have to keep an open mind with a commitment to learning and growth. This requires that I give and ask for great feedback. I must be accountable for my actions and take ownership of my commitments, my behaviors, and my mindset. Finally, it means that I have to prepare for the work we face, so I have the energy, resilience, mental agility, and stamina required to actually "have your back".
Great leaders “have their team’s back”. This means they protect their team from the proverbial poop running downhill and provide their team with the resources, support, vision, and energy necessary to succeed. Great followers “have their leader’s back” by doing what they say they will do, by proactively asking questions to fully understand the nuance of the work, and by paying attention to the details so the leader can focus on the bigger strategical decisions and actions. Great teammates “have each other’s back” by checking in to see how each other is doing, by helping each member take the recovery required to sustain their performance, and by proactively reaching out to support a team member even when their pride may prevent them from asking for help.
From a team perspective, having your back doesn't mean that I will cover up your mistakes or compromise my integrity to keep you out of trouble. If I truly have your back, I won’t need to make these compromises because we won’t need shortcuts or coverups; we will do the hard work to create great results. Teams who have each other’s backs show up, speak up, and create a culture where vulnerability is expected and supporting each other is the norm. On great teams, it's not extraordinary to display this "having your back" quality; it's what they do every day.
"I have your back" means I assume the best about you, and I don’t bring you down behind your back. It takes courage, effort, and Sustainable High Performance. On the flip side, there is nothing more powerful than your teammates having your back and them knowing you have their backs in return. When we truly have each other's backs, great things can happen. As always, I’d love to hear what you think.
Founder/Chief Performance Officer