By: Mike Lovell – October 18 2022

The term “Top Cover” has its origins in military aviation. It refers to the fighter aircraft who would fly at high altitudes to protect the bombers carrying out their operations at lower levels. Their job was to swoop down to protect the bombers if they were attacked by defending enemy aircraft.

Great leaders provide Top Cover for their teams in several important ways:

They clear the path ahead.

The leader ensures that the team does not get bogged down by administrative logistics. They ensure that the necessary approvals are in place for things such as security access, keycard passes, purchase orders for necessary equipment and so forth.

The leader ensures that the team can effectively get on with its work and that it is not bogged down in administrative log-jams.

They provide a buffer with the rest of the world.

 A great leader shields their team from the inevitable political dynamics that occur in every organization. They are alert and on the lookout for other managers who maybe raising awkward issues and placing obstacles in the path of the team’s work. Things like raising questions about who the team is all owed to interview, or why others were not included on the interview list.

They look for opportunities for on-the-job coaching and development

On the job experience is one of the most effective ways to build professional development. It is an invaluable way for the developing consultant to gain experience in a safe environment.

Even in a critical sales meeting or client workshop, my approach was typically to start the meeting, introduce the agenda,  explain what we intended to achieve, introduce the team,  and then to pass the baton over to one of my team members to take the lead in doing the actual presentation or leading the workshop.

The logic here was that I could always rescue them if things became difficult, but it was not so easy for them if they had to rescue me.

The other way to provide for a team is to provide it proactively for the engagement as a whole.

[Even as a practice Principal, I always made sure that a senior person from our organization was introduced to senior management at the client organization.

This ensured that if the overall project ran into difficulties, a senior person from our organization already had a working connection with their equivalent on the client side and could make contact based on an established relationship rather than having to start from scratch if we ran into problems and trouble-shooting was needed.

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