As the leader of your team, who’s got your back? Are the people who work for and with you watching out for you, or do you find yourself covering your six to keep from being stabbed in the back?

A few years back, the “Got Your 6” campaign launched to unite nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners to “create opportunities for our military veterans to successfully convert their leadership and operational training into positive civilian roles.” They had some great public service announcements that explained how “got your six” means we’ve got our veterans’ backs as they transition from military service to civilian life.

The PSAs also reminded me of lessons I learned in pilot training about how to keep the enemy from maneuvering to my ultimate position of vulnerability: my six o’clock position – the blind spot directly behind me where I wouldn’t recognize I was about to be killed. Translated into office politics: the blind spot where someone is about to make us look stupid or incompetent without us realizing it.

“Covering your six” is what pilots have wingmen for. In aerial combat, wingmen fly behind and above (or below) their lead to make sure no one sneaks up on them. Pretty easy to apply that as an analogy in the corporate world: who’s going to watch your back in the dog-eat-dog of self-sufficiency and watching out for yourself?

Your teammates, that’s who. The ones you’ve built trusting relationships with and know you have their backs as well.

When leaders are intentional about creating an environment of trust and collaboration in the office, coworkers watch out for each because they want the organization to succeed, and they don’t want to see someone they care about get hurt. It’s much more difficult to blindside an entire group of people watching out for each other than it is an individual outside the circle of trust.

I think it’s harder today to build trusting relationship in the workplace. Not impossible, but certainly more difficult than in the past. Because we all have so much information available about EVERYTHING, many have lost trust and confidence in historically reliable institutions like the news media, government, politics and popular culture. As we regularly question others’ ulterior motives (and others question ours), creating an environment of trust can be quite challenging.

Trust = integrity x compassion x competence

You build that environment of trust by having non-negotiable integrity and demonstrating you both care more about your employees than you do yourself (compassion), and you can and will use their efforts for the good of the organization (competence). You instill trust only if your actions are consistent with your words – assuming you have good intentions, of course.

“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it here. If you’re one who talks about others behind their backs, you can assume you are also being talked about. If there is even a hint that you might sacrifice a coworker for your benefit or to avoid blame, you’re headed for a Julius Caesar ending.

By now you’re thinking I must have grown up with rainbows and butterflies all around me. Far from it… I know competition can be fierce, and insecure or power-hungry people backstab from a variety of motivations. And I’ve certainly worked in places where the motto was something like “it’s not enough that I succeed; others must fail.” But in my experience, not having someone you trust to cover your six can be fatal to your career… figuratively AND literally.

Creating a culture of trust isn’t a passive activity; you can’t focus on helping your employees achieve great things if you’re always sitting in the corner with your back to the wall. If it’s not already a habit, you have to be intentional about getting out there and doing your best to make others successful, trusting them the way they trust you, and having their six.

So, who’s got your six?

It’s up to you, leaders.

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