Everyone Needs a Wingman or Wingwoman

Mark Fogel Career Advice, COVID-19, Engagement and Satisfaction, Kris Dunn, Mark Fogel, Tim Sackett

Did you see the last dance on ESPN? Michael Jordan had Scotty Pippen as his wingman. Six Championships, way to go! In the movie Top Gun, Maverick had Goose. Miranda Priestly in the Devil Wears Prada had Nigel. And here on FOT, Kris has Tim – or is it the other way around?

My conversation for today centers around the concept of a wingman.

Do you have one or are you the wingman for someone else? Either way the concept of having a partner to win in sports, business or life is universal. We all need wingmen in today’s uncertain environment. While I use the term wingman, know that these thoughts are gender neutral. All leaders have the same need, and a powerful woman needs a great number two as well. And the number two is gender (and other identifiers) agnostic. Talent and what I describe below is the only requirement.

In HR and Talent, it can be difficult to have a wingman (or wingwoman), as many organization’s HR functions are departments of one, two or three, with a vertical structure of reporting. Your boss or staff person cannot be a wingman, although they can be supportive. Sorry, my definition excludes bosses and subordinates.

In the military, your wingman is trusted with your life. For the rest of us let’s just say we trust them to always have your back.

Early in my HR career I found my wingman in our Director of Organizational Development at Limited Brand’s NY and Co. division, where I cut my teeth as a Talent executive. She always had my back and was honest in providing feedback, even when it was not flattering. A good wingman lets you know when you’re off course and gets you back on track, especially for those of us with a little rebel or cowboy in our DNA. Goose had Maverick’s back for sure!  In a world where personal achievement is valued over teams, that is a great trait to look for in a wingman. Quite honestly, I was not looking for someone to do that for a good portion of my career. When I arrived at the Limited’s corporate HR function, I was fortunate in this individual’s selflessness to help me. In fact, professionally, I would not have achieved so many of my work milestones without this individual’s early support.

The lesson is this – sometimes your wingman is not by choice or design. It happens over a period of time through building trust and respect. And sometimes you can develop a relationship at work that cuts both ways. You can reciprocate as a wingman by being one for someone else.

The beauty of the concept is there are no rules to follow. Except to always have the person’s back.

In this current pandemic environment, we need a wingman more than ever, and we need to be wingmen for others too.  As I ponder the concept, I am reminded of the Gallup Q 12 engagement survey question, “do you have a best friend at work?”  For years I was not sure of the value of this question. Over time, I have come to respect it. It is the proverbial wingman question. It goes beyond engagement. Your success (or failure) may hinge on this relationship.

I have not always had a wingman, at least not at work. Running HR for a couple of large organizations over my career has limited my ability to build interpersonal relationships. What if I had a wingman that I have to layoff or fire? What if they do something bad and I must act? It is hard to recuse yourself when you are the CHRO of your organization. Most CEO’s and CHRO’s face this dilemma. It is lonely at the top. One of the unique issues for these two roles is proximity of relationships and the requirement to take bold actions.

With those limitations in mind, the next best thing to an internal wingman is an external one. Again, the rules are not in cement. Improvise and have that businessperson as close as possible to your work environment and function. Make her someone you can call anytime and get good advice and counsel. Someone who can look you in the eye and tell you what you do not want to hear, but knows it is the best advice.

As I listen each week to the HR Famous Podcast, it strikes me that KD, Sacks and JLee are all wingman (and woman) to each other. They are so fortunate!

Ok, buckle up, it’s time to go…. and find your own wingman…are you ready?