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GOT MY BACK? Mean What You Say–Why Promise-Keeping is Key to Your Inner Leadership

February 15, 2010
Updated August 15, 2014

Knowledge Jobs When was the last time you said to a co-worker, friend, family member or even an acquaintance, “Don’t worry, I got your back.”

But did you?

Sure, we can say it’s a figure of speech, representative of today’s hip expressions, in effect a worthless statement of support or promise-keeping. But there’s more to this expression than that.

Would those who like to utter “Got your back” want to admit that it’s as substantive as a balloon full of hot air? Probably not. Yes, it’s said in humor at times, such as when my 31 year-old son says it to me on occasion. However, we both know the context in which it’s said.

I like to think that Gen Y, enthusiastic purveyors of “Got your back,” generally mean what they say. Having raised four kids to Gen Y status (one of whom is borderline Gen X), I see a very different set of values than us self-indulged Baby Boomers. Gen Y does seem to be more supportive of one another than older generations.

With over three decades in the workforce and battle scars-a-plenty from downsizing exercises and office politics, I can honestly state that Boomers are not the nicest people with whom to work. To have said during my career “Hey Frank, I got your back” would have been laughed at, for we Boomers learned to excel at backstabbing, deceit and self-promotion. There were too many of us in too compressed a time period, during which it was very competitive to advance in the workplace. Unfortunately, Gen X has learned some of our bad habits, being the generation that has been forced to live in the shadow of the Boomers.

Here’s a question for you to reflect upon:

To what extent would I go to back a colleague or subordinate at work if the individual were in trouble but not necessarily guilty of anything? And what would be my limits?

The greatest lessons learned as we develop our personal leadership come NOT during the easy times of economic growth and workforce expansion, but when we are under personal stress as aspiring leaders and when we are facing uncertainty. I am a testament to this, but only realized this decades later in life. We can quickly obtain technical skills and a certain degree of knowledge. However, wisdom comes only with time as we reflect upon our experiences, synthesize our learning, practice patience and move forward. There is no other way to acquire wisdom–it’s not instant pudding.

So, I ask you again: “Do you have my back?”

Please take a moment to comment and share your experiences.

You never find yourself until you face the truth.
– Pearl Bailey


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2010 10:30 pm

    Thanks Karl for sharing your perspective. You got the root of the issue: corporate culture.

    To what extent one may go to back a co-worker is influenced by many factors. I like how you expressed taking your conscience with you. We may leave a bad work environment, but our conscience is our life-long friend and allie.

  2. February 15, 2010 8:41 pm

    It’s a good question.

    If there’s a risk involved in sticking up for a co-worker, then there’s deeper problems with the culture of your workplace. Any supervisor not interested in and appreciative of hearing the truth voiced is playing with fire.

    My main thought is that I have to take me conscience with me wherever I go. Which is more difficult keeping a job safe with a troubled conscience (having let a co-worker down to protect myself), or possibly going on a search for a new job (in the case that my sticking up for my co-worker back-fired on me)? Not an easy question to answer. I would hope I would choose the free conscience.

    Thanks for the reflective challenge.

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