Every Team Needs A Bodyguard

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Leaders protect their teams.

The Challenge

I was working as a production manager for a Fortune 100 aerospace company. The US government experienced a delay in placing a weapons simulation contract. The required delivery schedule did not change despite their delay in signing the contract.

Since the government carved the schedule in stone, our corporate agreed to a ridiculously lucrative contract we had limited ability to deliver on time. The contract should have taken eighteen months. The allocated timeframe was only seven months.

Planning for this delivery fell to my Operations team and me. We held a two-day off-site to analyze and squeeze every second out of the schedule. After all our work, we still needed to work 10 to 12-hour days to meet the timeline. Luck needed to be a lady to make our date.

We held an All-Hands meeting, where we explained the problem and our plan. Anyone could opt out of the plan and work normal hours. No one walked away.

For the last ten weeks of the project, every single person who worked for me was working twelve hours a day, seven days a week — from myself to the production supervisors to the manufacturing engineers and facilities employees. We weren’t taking our regular lunches. Sometimes I would bring in fast-food, like tacos, and drop the order off in the conference room so people could eat quickly and race back to work. There were other days when everybody would bring a dish, and we would eat from the buffet for the day.

Success

After working very hard, we completed the project and shipped a full day early. The company made outlandish amounts of money.

The next week, I took the entire team — salaried people and the hourly production team — out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant. We left at 11:30 am and didn’t return until 2:30 pm, taking an extra-long paid lunch. During lunch, I held a short business discussion about our accomplishments.

When I returned to my office, my boss was waiting for me.

“Can you follow me please?” he asked.

“Sure.”

I walked to his office and sat down. He told me that someone had complained that I had taken the entire production team out for a three-hour lunch.

Before I answered, I centered myself. I was white hot angry — not a good emotion for critical thinking and talking to your boss. I told him in a calm voice that yes, I had taken the entire production team out for a four-hour lunch. We were celebrating our success in completing the contract in one-third of the standard production time.

That explanation did not satisfy him. He lectured me about how it looked for me to take the whole team out for hours. He explained how embarrassing it was for him that his whole team was out, and he didn’t know. Finally, he wanted me to convey his sentiments to the rest of my team.

“Don’t be distracted by criticism. Remember — the only taste of success some people have is when they take a bite out of you.” — Zig Ziglar

He was right — I should have told him we were taking a long lunch that day. I apologized for not telling him in advance. I did not say “I have never told you before when I took the entire team out,” but I badly wanted to say it. I was disappointed he had not defended our team. He knew the hours we had been working.

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Push Back

I pushed back. “Everyone here knew we were working crazy hours. Every person in this plant will get a larger profit share because of our efforts. I have a recommendation for whoever complained to you; they are welcome to meet me in the lot tomorrow at 6:00 am when I come in. I invite them to stay with me until I leave that evening at 6:00 pm. Tell them I’ll meet them outside.

They can work with me all day. I expect to see them every day working our production team hours for six or seven weeks in a row. At the end of that period, I’ll be willing to apologize to them for taking the entire team out for a long lunch.”

I was usually agreeable, but that day, I was not. I added, “ I will not talk to anyone about this conversation. I’m feeling unappreciated. No one else should to feel this way. We need to revel in this success. You should have stood up for me and my team.”

My boss stared at me in shock. I gazed back at him. I said nothing else.

After a few minutes, he dismissed me. I left.

Part of my job as the boss was to protect the team from unfair critics. Whoever stopped to complain to my boss did not care about the team; they wanted to start trouble. Nothing was missed while the team was out of the plant. My job as a leader was to protect the team when jerks unfairly attacked. I was the bodyguard.

No one ever showed up to take me up on my work offer.

The Lesson

I learned two lessons from my boss that day.

The first lesson was that when someone runs into your office to tear down your team, you shouldn’t react to that person without doing your own investigation.

Take a moment before you concur and say, “Ah, let me find out what is going on, then I’ll get back to you.” Investigate, then get back to them.

There are always two sides to the story. Go find out your team’s version of events. Avoid snap decisions based on one side of the story.

There are hidden agendas everywhere in the world; corporate life is no different.

The second thing I learned is that people are demotivated by not being appreciated. My boss disheartened me by making me feel unappreciated. Don’t chastise your team before you do your research and understand what’s going on. Then take a moment to examine the situation from their side to anticipate their reaction. Prepare. Execute.

Good leaders defend and protect their teams from those trying to undermine their reputation or their work.

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