Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13
When you stand up for people, you confirm that you’re “on their side” when they need you. Great leaders need to be authentically (see week 9) focused on their teams’ well-being and interests, rather than on themselves. After all, your responsibility as a leader is to support your people appropriately and to make sure that they have everything they need to do their jobs effectively. When things go well, you all share the credit and rewards. The same should be true when things don’t go well.
This doesn’t mean that you should defend your people’s actions in all circumstances; it is foolish to jump to the defense of someone who has done something genuinely bad or unethical. Furthermore, you must avoid defending your people as a way of manipulating them to “pay you back” for your loyalty in the future.
When people work toward an ambitious goal, they will certainly make mistakes. You, as the leader, must go on with these people day after day. Who do you think they will follow – a leader who protects them, or someone who throws them under the bus?
I don’t see this as a black and white issue. It can often be very difficult to ascertain as to whether you should or shouldn’t stand up for someone.
I believe there are a couple of things you must use as tools in order to properly protect people:
1. Know Your Values
You must be 100% clear on what you will stand up for, and what you won’t. This means fully understanding your organization’s values and mission and then communicating it as such. Tell people that, as long as they stick to your values, you will stand up for them. Don’t assume they know this, and you should communicate it often.
2. Analyze the Situation
You may have to decide at a moment’s notice whether to defend someone – you’ll need to trust your own good judgment to make the best decision.
If you can start by gathering as many facts about the situation as possible. Try to be unbiased and look at facts and only facts.
Then, explore what happened against the values of the organization. Does it violate important values and standards, does it undermine the team’s mission, or does it unnecessarily impact the well-being of the team or of an individual team member?
Lastly, how you proceed has a lot to do with the person you’re defending. Has the person already done all that can be done to remedy the situation? Did the person truly do his/her best, and is this person deserving of your support?
If the person you are speaking to won’t let you gather facts of the situation, then question this person as to why he/she won’t let you try to understand what happened. It might be because the person is wrong, or just trying to make it all about emotion. Don’t let someone evil or foolish draw you into focusing on emotions rather than facts.
After you have done these two things, if appropriate, defend the person.
If you can, plan on what you’re going to say in advance. Explain why you’re standing by the person, and highlight the steps the person has taken to remedy the situation. Ask why those steps are not working.
If you decide to take responsibility for the problem, explain what you’re going to do the make the situation right, along with the steps you intend to make sure to avoid a repeat occurrence.
When the Pharisees came to Jesus and told him to rebuke his staffers because they were eating wheat on the Sabbath, Jesus knew the rules – he knew that his staff was clearly breaking them. However, he did something quite unexpected. He responded to the scribed and the Pharisees, “You strain at a gnat and swallow a camel,” he told them in no uncertain terms. They quickly became shamed into silence. Clearly, Jesus was defending his staff to the public. In another famous story, he defended a woman by posing the famous statement to the crowd, “Let he who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.” In this sense, I believe this is symbolic of Jesus defending all of mankind. Isn’t that what Jesus does for us in front of the Father? He defends and protects us from judgment and eternal punishment. Talk about a protective leader!
Jesus didn’t always agree with his followers or what they did. In fact, it was often quite the opposite. But, he protected and defended them. And, he did it in a very honorable and wise manner. Any leader who wants to be great will emulate how Jesus protected his staff.