When to Provide Air Cover | 120 Seconds to Better Leadership

I just left lunch with my former chair, a boss from a long time ago. And he put me into a role and had to provide me some air cover. So, he put me into a role 12 months out of grad school. I had forty direct reports and twenty-five hundred students a semester taking my class. Of course, in the first two weeks, I think I got into a fight with the vice chancellor, and he was not super happy with me about that. But he provided the air cover. He said, “Bermes, I’ll spend my marbles fixing this for you, don’t do it again.”

And of course, I didn’t do it again. I ran the program I think quite well for about a decade.

Air Cover Can Become Co-Dependent

 It got me thinking about air cover and the role we play protecting our direct reports from things that go wrong. Mistakes they make, things they don’t know, and things they are caught off guard by. And, here’s my belief. I think air cover can become a co-dependent thing, right? Where you just cover up your peoples’ mistakes, and they don’t grow from it and ultimately it infringes upon your credibility.

Don’t Give Out Too Much Air Cover

 But here’s a few patterns that I look for. One, do I think this person that made a mistake is honest? Do I think they have the best intention at heart? If they did, I’m willing to give air cover. Two, is this person making the same mistake over and over again? Am I always giving them air cover? And if you’re always giving them air cover then it’s a sign that you need to stop.

Everybody Needs Some Help Sometimes

 I think with air cover, we definitely all have to do it. People are, you know, more junior, they’re in more vulnerable positions, they don’t have the power to necessarily ride out their own storms. But we don’t want that to become a pattern of co-dependence where we cover up for ineptitude. Right? That’s what we don’t want. Or, worst of all, people that are not honest. Honesty for me is numero uno.

 So those are my thoughts on air cover.  Hopefully you’ve received some when you needed it. I did, and it was great to reconnect with him. And I appreciate him just one more time for saving my bacon.

Emily Bermes