Standing In The Line Of Fire

Have you ever taken the fall for someone else? How did you feel? There was likely a bit of anger, frustration, and resentment. You probably told yourself that you would never allow that situation to happen again.

trustWhat if I told you not to make that resolution? That instead, you should seek opportunities to stand in the line of fire for someone else. For someone you lead.

As product managers, we are responsible for leading teams that take ideas from concept to reality. By definition this is a learning and developmental activity. As with all learning, people make mistakes. This is in fact how most people and teams learn, by trial and error. This is likely how you yourself learned, by making mistakes.

The problem is that mistakes in business can often negatively affect other people. Our customers, bosses, vendors, and associates don’t always take kindly to the learning process. When our team’s mistakes negatively impact someone else, that person often feels angry and seeks to relieve their frustration on one of your team members.

When these situations arise we are presented with a choice. Do we stand aside and let those we lead bare the onslaught alone? Do we abdicate our role as captain and hide behind our office door, or do we see these situations as opportunities to practice being foundational leaders?

Take responsibility for the mistake

AcceptEven though you are not the one who made it. Even though you are the one getting yelled at. Even though this might hurt your image.

Understand that you in fact played a significant role. You are the systems creator and you are the one responsible for giving those you lead the tools they need to succeed. If you are struggling with this concept then ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What systems or controls could I have created to prevent this mistake from happening?
  2. What training did I fail to provide?
  3. What conflicting messages have I delivered that might have led to the mistake?
  4. What omissions have I made from my message as a leader?


I understand that in many ways this advice goes against every natural instinct you might be having. I would ask you to examine the following three points and consider how taking a stand for your employees will positively impact your team.

  1. We can create a safe place for our team. Because they know their boss will always get in the ring with them, they are not afraid to take risks. They will go after that new contract, take on more responsibility, and help you grow the business.
  2. We build trust. We show our employees that we are empathetic to their situation. That we understand what it is like to make a mistake, work to correct it, and ultimately learn from it. We can also show them we have integrity by not using them as a human shield when things get tough.
  3. Allowing people to make mistakes allows them to learn and grow. This is probably the most important point. If we want to grow our market share and our revenue, then we need our team to grow as well.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

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