Standing up for Your People
Showing Support When It Matters
If we don't stand up for others, who will be left to stand up for us? – Karen Traviss, author
Have you ever worked with someone who defended you when you made a mistake, or, for honest reasons, performed badly on a task?
Perhaps she put her own reputation on the line, and defended your actions to a senior manager or a customer. Or, maybe she took responsibility for your mistake herself, or defended you from unjust criticism.
If you have experienced this, it probably made a very deep impression on you, and strengthened the relationship you had with that person.
What if this is reversed? Do you feel comfortable standing up for your own people in this way? And do you know when you should and shouldn't do this?
In this article, we'll look at how to defend people appropriately. We'll look at why you should; explore when you shouldn't; and think about how you can stand your ground diplomatically and effectively, without damaging your reputation.
Why Stand Up for Others?
When you stand up for people, you show that you're "on their side" when they need help. This builds long-term loyalty, trust, credibility, commitment, and morale in your team, and it gives your people a confidence boost.
It also shows that you are focused on your team's well-being and interests, rather than on yourself. This helps to create a positive working environment and shows everyone that you're a leader worth following.
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.
However, you shouldn't defend your people's actions in all circumstances. For instance, you can end up looking foolish if you jump to the defense of someone who has done something genuinely bad or unethical, and you should avoid defending your people as a way of manipulating them to "pay you back" for your loyalty in the future.
How to Stand Up for Your People
It can be difficult to know when you should or shouldn't stand up for your people. Let's look at a common-sense approach for doing it:
1. Know Your Values
It's important that you start out knowing what you'll stand up for, and what you won't. This means knowing your own values, and fully understanding your organization's values and mission.
For instance, what standards of behavior are really important to you? What if your team member did something that seriously breached these standards – would you still stand by her? And what if a colleague violated your organization's core mission? Should you defend his actions?
Although you can't plan for every situation, you can prepare yourself mentally by thinking about what you'd do in certain situations.
2. Analyze the Situation and Assess Risks
You may have to decide at a moment's notice whether to speak up in someone else's defense. In these cases, you'll have to trust your own good judgment to make the best decision. However, it's best to take some time to analyze the situation first, if you can.
Start by gathering the facts about the situation. Are you relying on one side of the story, or have you taken time to speak to everyone involved?
Then explore the behavior. Does it contravene 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? Or is it actually OK when you look at it using these criteria?
Another part of your analysis has to do with the person you're defending. Has she done all that she can to avoid or remedy the situation? Did she truly do her best? Does she deserve your support?
3. Decide on Action
Once you've analyzed the situation, you can decide on the action that you'll take.
For instance, if you believe that your team member was justified in what he did, or that he made an honest mistake, you'd probably decide to support him fully.
Or, as his manager, you might take responsibility for his actions, and take appropriate steps to make sure that the problem doesn't happen again. (This might involve reviewing processes and procedures, making sure that he has the resources needed to avoid problems in the future, or outlining a performance agreement.)
If you decide that the person doesn't deserve your support, it's important to explain to him why you're not going to defend his actions, using the information that you gathered in the previous step.
4. Defend Appropriately
When it comes to defending team members to others, plan what you're going to say in advance, if you can.
Explain why you're standing by them, and highlight the steps they've taken to remedy the situation, if appropriate.
If you've taken responsibility for their actions as their manager, explain what you're going to do the make the situation right, and to make sure that it doesn't happen again.
You need to maintain good working relationships with the person you're speaking with, so be diplomatic at the same time that you're assertive, and do your best to use empathy to see things from his or her perspective.
Communicate clearly and calmly, and stay professional, even if criticism is unjust.
Make sure that you stand up for everyone on your team when appropriate, not just the team members you have a good connection with.
If you defend your people after they've made mistakes or performed poorly, make sure that they understand what they did wrong, and that they commit to ensuring that this doesn't happen again.
Our article on Dealing With Unfair Criticism has more on responding diplomatically to unwarranted criticism.
As a leader or manager, there will likely be times when you need to defend your people from criticism, or stand up for them if they've made a mistake.
If you defend your team members, it will not only increase the sense of loyalty that they feel for you, but it can also boost their self-confidence and contribute to high morale.
Stand up for your people effectively by:
- Knowing your values.
- Analyzing the situation and assessing risks.
- Deciding on action.
- Defending appropriately.
If the problem arose because of a mistake or poor performance, make sure that you take appropriate steps to remedy the situation.
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