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

October 29, 2017



Trust Fall

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 humour at times, such as when my 34 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 my peer 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, my view is that Baby 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 you 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 your 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’re facing uncertainty. I’m 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. Take a moment to read Paddling in Organizational Whitewater.

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

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

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