Skip to content

Give Them a Chance: Support Your People

Every person who makes it to the upper levels of the corporate ladder gets there because someone was willing to take a chance on them. 

Give them a chance

Check out the book: The Middle Matters: A Toolkit for Middle Managers

Seriously, every single one. 

That isn’t to diminish the accomplishments that an individual has made over the course of their career. It is hard work to demonstrate readiness to move up. 

But no one is ever fully ready to take on the next level. New tasks. A larger team. New skills - like leadership and influencing. More complex politics. Higher level decisions. 

You really can’t fully appreciate someone’s ability to elevate until you give them a chance. 

What all of this means is that senior leaders have to mentor and sponsor their people. If the organization is going to take a chance, there needs to be someone advocating that this chance is worth taking. 

Far too many leaders fall down on the job of standing up for their people. 

Everyone makes mistakes as they learn and grow. For whatever reason though, in most corporate cultures, senior peers descend on even little mistakes like vultures. 

Unsupportive leaders allow this, letting their people flail and flounder because it’s easier to just go along with their peers’ toxic “hunger games” attacks … Why defend your people at any cost to yourself? 

Let’s get real. They all made mistakes along the way, too. And someone still took a chance on them despite, or even because of, the challenges and setbacks they overcame. 

Some senior leaders seem to naturally get this. They invest in their people in a number of ways: 

  • They actively seek to understand the aspirations and goals of their people. 
  • They provide frequent feedback - positive and critical - with the specific goal of helping their people learn and grow. 
  • They seek to understand what perceptions - from other senior leaders - might hold their people back and find ways to overcome those perceptions.
  • They ensure their people get projects that highlight their next-level skills and capabilities - both as doers and as leaders. 
  • They make sure their people get to experience what the next level looks like by inviting them to sit at the table in key decision meetings. 
  • They provide visibility for their people, allowing them to present their work directly to the leaders who impact their career path.
  • They not only forgive mistakes and setbacks, they treat them as opportunities to learn. 
  • Most importantly, they aggressively defend their people’s learning and growth. They refuse to allow their peers to attack their people for every mistake they make along their learning journey.

So many times in my career, I have seen senior leaders form unfair opinions of a valued colleague because of one bad presentation, or a misunderstanding, or some childish unwillingness to forgive a misstep. 

Of course, it would be great to the folks with the power over people’s careers to have a more nuanced and enlightened attitude. But we can’t really control what they do. 

Here’s a few thoughts on what you can do: 

  • If you are trying to move up in your career, ask your leader for this sort of support and, more importantly, spend time cultivating mentors and supporters across your organizations who will stand up for you. 
  • If you are a people leader, consider the list above and how you might use those tactics to more actively support the people who report to you. 
  • Finally, if/when you are in a position of power, be forgiving, model kindness, let go of grudges, show grace. 

In other words, let’s give people a chance to learn and grow.  Let’s help them achieve their potential. I think we’ll all be surprised at the results.

I'm looking to build a thriving community of middle managers - please share this blog and  recommend the book: The Middle Matters: A Toolkit for Middle Managers to a middle manager in your life.