Karin’s Leadership Articles

More than anything, your team wants to know you have their backs. They want to know they matter–to you–not just to the company. They want to believe you’d walk through fire for them and to take the proverbial bullet coming from above.  Of course you would, but do they know it?

A Short Story on Having Guts and Backs

We all cringed when this particular leader, let’s call him “Simon,” would walk into the store and start interacting with customers. After all, we had strict guidelines about what we could and could not do. Retail is always a balancing act of providing great customer service and not giving away the store.

He’d get to chatting with a customer and right in front the employees who were on performance plans for too much discounting, would do something over the top to delight a customer. On the surface, a noble gesture. It sends a true message that customers come first, a deeply seeded value for all.

But the truth is that guy’s story was the same as ten others who just walked through the door that day, and consistency is key. If we should do THAT each time, the training and metrics must change. Everyone wished they had the same latitude to help that customer. We coached the leader on the downstream impact, but didn’t notice a change. It became harder to talk about balanced scorecards.

5 Ways Your Team Knows You Have Their Backs

1. Live By the Same Standards

Your team wants to know you hold yourself to the same standards you expect of them. They want consistent parameters to guide their decisions, and to know that you will have their back when they follow them. Follow the same rules you ask of them. If you make exceptions, allow such exceptions to become the norm.

2. Take Some Bullets

Joe screwed up. But Joe’s a good guy. And quite frankly, you should have been paying closer attention. It’s easy to blame Joe. Take the hit. Joe and everyone else will respect you.

3. Put Your Team Ahead of Your Boss Every Now and Then

Your bosses’ calls always appear urgent. Sometimes they are, sometimes it can wait. If you’re in the middle of a meeting with your team, or an important one-on-one, tell your boss what you’re up to and ask if it’s urgent or can wait a few minutes. Deep respect all around will likely follow.

4. Distinguish the Urgent

Face it, stuff rolling down-hill almost always feels like a fire drill. Be the buffer. Know what really matters and nail it. Be the best at what matters most, and you win some cushion to be a bit slower on the noise. In the meantime, your team gets that you get it, and will work even harder on what matters most.

5. Fight Misperceptions

Nothing makes me sadder than watching managers who believe in a cause or a guy completely reverse their point of view when someone above has a different opinion. The truth is, those perceptions are often based on one or two limited encounters. If you believe in something or someone and the jury’s still out, look for ways to reverse the findings. Don’t go along and destroy the vision or someone’s career to protect your own. Teams will follow a leader who has their backs. Every time. Be THAT guy and your career will follow.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    It’s rare when a boss has you’re back. Special when it happens.

    • Karin Hurt

      Hmmm… Over the years I’ve had some great bossses who really had my back. I have strived to be that for my team. I’d be interested to hear from others, how rare is it?

      • Greg Marcus

        Hi Karin

        In my experience, the boss with your back is rare and becoming more rare. Maybe it’s my industry or area of the country. I’ve had the Simon management team, who held themselves to different rules. I even had one boss who would defer to me when jr people were around, and not when more senior people were present. Not a good management team as he was rewarded for it.

        Now if you had been my manager, I may well still be in corporate today!

      • Karin Hurt

        Greg, Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Disappointing, but not surprising to hear. It’s really tricky when the same rules don’t apply… and leads to exactly what you’re sharing here, smart, dedicated, creative people, saying “enough.” Terrible for long-term results.

  2. Ted DeGennaro

    Great blog today (and everyday Karin). As you know in a growth spurt that I am experiencing now, we have tons of new leaders and we are in continued states of development at all levels… Front line into entry level, entry level into mid, and mid into high. This blog really touched on some points I am covering tomorrow in my weekly staff meeting, and I appreciate you adding to my thought process for communicating the most important aspect of being a great leader. Thank you!

  3. Marc Bridgham

    Karin, you are consistently one of the most solid leadership/organizatioal bloggers/writers out there. This is one of my favorites and I was very pleased to see this aspect of leadership so clearly described. I think your tips are spot on and not readily thought of in mainstream leadership thought, taking a bullet for example. x

    One I would add is “defer to your team members in public forums”. One of the opportunities to really demonstrate having your team’s back is when you and your team are in a meeting and you are asked a question about some aspect of the work or project. So many leaders I’ve seen at this moment answer the question themselves even if they are not as clear or well-informed as others instead of simply defering to a “lesser” team member.

    Not infrequently I’ve seen leaders give an answer even when they don’t know or have the right answer. Team members present are then in the awkward position of saying nothing or potentially embarassing the leader. As soon as the team hits the hall after the meeting the leader is admonishing the team to make sure his rear is covered or berating them for not adequately preparing him or her.

    Giving explicit credit to the team or team members in public forums is a natural extension of this principle.

  4. Marc Bridgham

    Meant to include a language routine for defering. As in “Sara, you know more about the answer to this” or “What do you think about this, Fred?” or “What did we conclude when we discussed this as a team the last time, team?, even at minimum “please jump in, team, if I’m missing anything or not being accurate”

    • Karin Hurt

      Mark, Thanks so very much for your kind words. That means a lot.

      Your add here is FANTASTIC! I totally agree with you. That’s a GREAT way to lead with confident, humility and show you have their backs. Glad you shared specific wording too.

  5. Terri Klass

    People appreciate it when heir leaders go to bat for them, especially when they are on shaky ground.Taking bullets for the team is critical if leaders want their team’s loyalty. I once had a boss who spoke up for me even though I wasn’t totally correct in the situation. She had my allegiance from that point on.

    Thanks Karin for tackling a difficult subject!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, That’s a great example. Yeah, sometimes it’s important to have their backs, even when they’re wrong. Help them get it right, privately.

  6. Jon Mertz

    Great ways to show teams we have their backs, Karin. My one add is to let them know what they can stop doing or don’t have to do. Letting them know it is OK to let certain things left undone because they don’t matter as much or aren’t really needed when compared to the other activities in front of them. Setting the example of saying “no” to what isn’t really important is a great example to lead with and also let them know you have their back. Thanks! Jon

    • Karin Hurt

      Jon, Oh that’s a really great one. Yes, great leaders take stuff off the plate.

  7. Stewart Nicholas

    I’m generally a bit of a lurker on your post Karin; but I thought this post contained some especially good insight on the heart of a leader. Item 4 was a standout to me. It reminded me of something I used to tell the guys that served under me in the Army. Whenever I found that my team was struggling to remain collected, under what they perceived as pressure, I would ask them a simple question. “Are you guys stressed?” The obvious answer being yes. I’d then follow with “Why? Do I look stressed to you? If I’m the guy that tells you when to stress, and I’m not stressing, then why are you? I’ll tell you when to stress, and what to stress about. Just relax and think about the task at hand. Everything is going to work itself out.” It helps that I tend to be a bit placid under most circumstances :-p

  8. LaRae Quy

    You make such important points, Karin.

    I have found the one thing that teams crave from leadership and that is consistency. If a leader waffles on either a policy or with different people, they instantly lose credibility.

    Teams members will tolerate policies they don’t like if those policies are consistent across the board and leadership is consistent.

    Thanks so much for posting!

    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, I so agree. People want to know the parameters and that they’re consistently applied.

  9. Matthew Frost


    I really enjoyed this post. I really believe that success breeds success and that a crucial element to building a successful culture in any team/work atmosphere is accountability. It’s reassuring and enriching to everyone under you when you’re able to step up and be the guy, take it on yourself, and then lead the way.

    You build an equity with your people when you do that and it allows you to position challenges to your people in a way that they can approach positively and creatively.

    I haven’t read your book but I’m interested to see how you address cultivating this atmosphere, in reverse, with a boss that is a bit more challenging or limited in their ability to proactively work on this dynamic.

    • Karin Hurt


      Thanks so much for your awesome comment. My book centers around various difficult scenarios with the boss. I think the first step is opening up communication lines and understanding what’s going on in their world. Understanding the pressures your boss may be under and being transparent about the impact of some of the behaviors, off-line, in a private way, and seeing what you can do to help. Each scenario is different and I try to address some of those. Bottom line, I believe people have more power than they may think in these scenarios.

  10. Chalya Miri-Gazhi

    Do bosses have the back of their subordinates? I doubt that. Experience has taught me that bosses will throw you off the ship at the earliest inconvenience except of course you happen to have mother theresa as your boss. But thanks for a refreshing though highly unobtainable perspective. 🙂

    • Karin Hurt

      Chayla, I’m so sorry to hear that’s been your experience. My hope for you and for others is that you become the boss you wish you had.

Virtual Leadership Training Programs


Join the Let’s Grow Leaders community for free weekly leadership
insights, tools, and strategies you can use right away!

Where in the World are
Karin & David?

Other Related Posts