Give a cover 🪖  

The journey in the corporate world from “cover your back” to “give them a cover’ looks challenging but a true leader can develop such an environment.

Asif Durrani

One of the key distinctive leadership traits between corporate and military leadership is the level of trust and dependability among their team and with the leader. A soldier never gets fired or laid off. A soldier is trained to fight side by side; ready to take fire from the enemy and save fellow soldiers. Leadership never makes a soldier redundant but in the corporate world, we do make people redundant. The industry has witnessed numerous corporate leaders who used to call their employees a part of a family but at the time of layoff, they smartly avoid the use of the word ‘family’ in their farewell notes.

The essence of leadership is very well summarized by Sun Tzu in this one statement: “Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”

In the real world, military leadership creates dependability among soldiers. They give zeal for victory and infuse motivation among soldiers. In return they expect soldiers to fight till the last breath and made every effort to protect their fellow soldiers. This is made possible because of the intrinsic quality of trust and dependability among soldiers and with their leadership. A true leader does not call their employee a family but treat them like a family.

Dependability is the single most important leadership trait which makes the civilian and military worlds distinct from each other and mutually exclusive. On a battlefield, soldiers have full trust in fellow companions that they will not let them down. Even if there is a disconnect in approaches but once a decision is taken by the military leadership everyone follows the unity of command without any alternate democratic options. There is no room left for the creation of structural boundaries among company units or in a platoon; everyone is an equal contributor and with a single mission to succeed on the battlefield with dependability on each other. This single element of dependability is abundant in military leadership but becomes scarce in a board room and especially on the corporate floor.

A typical corporate floor with numerous cubicles not only segregates the people into various functional units but also creates a barrier to the flow of information. This later become fatal to the agility of an organization and fosters bureaucratic decision-making. More cubicles lead to slower repulse time to address market maneuvers by competition. Every time we process information or work on a project through a multi-layered functional team we are strengthening the structural boundaries within the organization. Something lethal for the growth of a fast-paced organization.

Interestingly most of the corporate leaders admire military leadership during the town halls and at seminars, they talk endlessly about Sun Tzu, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar but in reality, they build silos among teams by introducing various units and asking team members to only focus on their respective area of support. Many experienced professionals could easily recall at least one of their manager from past professional life who often heard saying to their team members “never take chances, always cover your back” that statement even said casually reflects a narrow-minded approach which can only lead to friction among teams. The leadership statement should be other way around: If you see any of your colleagues on the corporate floor going through a challenge go and ‘give them a cover’.

We are living in a world where board room corporate honchos have created an environment for people to sit in their cubicles and take refuge from getting blamed. Instead of this they should be jumping into a trench and giving a fight to the competition together as one unit. The antidote to stop this corporate culture silos and an attitude of “cover you back” is to encourage the dependability of team members across organization.

The journey in the corporate world from “cover your back” to “give them a cover’ looks challenging but a true leader can develop an environment in which everyone on the corporate floor regardless of cross-functionally unit or title of their position is ready to ‘give a cover to their colleague’. Each person sitting in a cubicle should give the same level of dependability as a soldier sitting in a trench and give a cover to his colleague when someone meets uncertainties without waiting for an SOS call. This could be a supporting hand extending while working on a demanding proposal for a client or giving an ear to improve the mental health of a colleague.

One of the success measures for a leader should be to assess the ability of creating an environment where colleagues work in harmony and are ready to support each other. A healthy working relationship among colleagues is in proportion to the success of the organization. This cannot be neglected by the leader at any cost.

Asif Durrani

21 April 2022

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