Does your Boss have your Back?

When Andrea quit her job at a multinational and joined a large local company, she knew she’d struggle with the new organisation’s culture. With its emphasis on hierarchy, controlled access to information, closed decision-making etc. it would be a new experience. How was she to build trust in her new team?

We both knew she was in for an adventure. We talked about the challenge then, and I gave her a few thoughts and ideas on what she might want to try out, the new culture permitting. When we met recently, I asked her about team spirit and trust. I was very pleased to learn that she had tried most of the things we had discussed and had seen very encouraging and positive results reasonably quickly.

It’s not always this easy. A client in another organisation admitted that senior management did not respect or accept any ideas that the middle management teams came up with. No trust, he said. Further, instead of promoting from within, the company routinely hired externally, hoping fresh eyes would provide perspective. Perhaps that happened, but this practice did incalculable damage to morale, commitment, confidence, and ultimately performance.

Yes, trust is a powerful force.

Knowing that we have our boss’s trust and backing allows us to perform without fear. It’s a definite confidence booster, charges the energy in the team space, and helps us all perform to the best of our ability. Andrea had found ways to build transparency, mutual respect, trust and inter-dependence in her team; all within the restrictions of the organisation’s culture and working style.

Do you have your boss’s trust? Here are some of the things you should look for, and interpret as signs of your boss’s support.

Does your boss…
… ask for and listen to your point of view?
… tolerate the occasional mistake or failure?
… consciously take a step back and let you carry on?
… support you on issues you consider important?
… encourage debates and disagreements on business issues, and not let them interfere with work?
… acknowledge and respect your opinion, even if it’s different from the popular one?
… mention performance appraisal often, especially with a view to influencing your behaviour?

As you have probably discovered already, your answers will not necessarily be a “Yes” or a “No”. It’s quite likely that you would say “Sometimes” to more than a few, and that is absolutely fine. The idea is to be aware of how much support you’re getting.

Remember that trust is a two-way street. As you seek your boss’s support, you’ve got to provide reasons to trust you and back you up, as well. How well have you earned your boss’s trust? For each question you’ve asked of your boss, make sure you understand how well you have served as a subordinate.

Have you…
… delivered work to committed deadlines and expected standards?
… owned up and accepted responsibility when it was clearly yours?
… communicated honestly and openly – sharing your views, aspirations, misgivings, fears, disagreements?
… demonstrated commitment to the team and the business?
… deliberately withheld disappointing or bad news planning to sort it out later?
… worked with equal energy on all assignments, even when you did not agree with some?
… tried to influence opinion in an unfair or unethical manner?

Every team thrives on mutual trust, dependence and support. Knowing someone has your back is central to fearless performance. It’s as essential in business as in every other team activity. Building that trust must happen from both the boss and the subordinate. The subordinate has to earn it as much as the boss needs to provide it. Some bosses – though not nearly enough – believe in providing unconditional support till the subordinate’s performance demands a recalibration.

How can you work towards getting more support and trust at the workplace? The year-end is a great opportunity to reflect on all events and critically evaluate where you and your boss are with regard to mutual trust and support. You will then have an action plan to tackle in 2016. Happy New Year!

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