What is Supportive Leadership?
Supportive leadership is a leadership style where a manager does not simply delegate tasks and receive results but instead supports an employee until the task’s completion. A major upside to supportive leadership is that the manager will work with the employee until he or she is empowered and skilled enough to handle tasks with minimal supervision in the future.
At a Glance
Technological advancements are not the only things that are transforming how businesses are being run nowadays. While things like cloud services and data analytics may be taking much of the spotlight, there are numerous other changes associated with the new generation of employees and employers. The current style of leadership differs from the traditional one adopted by our parents and grandparents. One style of leadership that is becoming common among executives is supportive leadership.
The best way to explain supportive leadership is through an illustration. Suppose the manager of Company A wants to increase production to 15% by the end of the fiscal year. If he were following the traditional leadership style, the manager would research, do a bit of analysis, and then come up with the activities that need to be carried out to achieve the objective. He would then dictate the instructions to his employees and set a timeframe for achieving the project.
Now consider another company, say B, where the manager wants to achieve the same result. However, she approaches the problem very differently. She first creates a team of individuals with the right skills for the task. Next, she explains the guidelines on how to go about achieving the goal. But rather than leave them to the task, she works with them, listening to their suggestions and recommendations. She also provides the necessary resources, supervises, and corrects them when they go astray.
The Main Tenets of Supportive Leadership
There are a few principles that govern supportive leadership. They are as follows:
1. Employee Dialogue
A leader in the 21st century needs to strike a balance between management and leadership by giving them equal attention. Unfortunately, a majority of firms place more emphasis on management and neglect leadership.
The ideal supportive leader does not aim to achieve all goals by herself. Instead, she views herself as a coach of a team. So, as a team member, she not only sets the rules and milestones but also accepts any recommendations for changes. Such constructive feedback can only happen through employee dialogue. Put simply, a supportive leader is one who keeps the channels of communication open, accepting corrections, criticisms, and suggestions where necessary.
The training style of leadership depends on leaders’ approach to three key elements: emotions, training, and time. Supportive leaders do a lot more than set rules and regulations. They also listen to any complaints from their employees and help them cope with stressful events. It is one of the aspects that differentiate a supportive leader from a typical manager. An ordinary manager would find it difficult to be empathetic or show a high degree of sensitivity toward her employees. Supportive leaders also teach their employees how to cope with their own issues. As such, they don’t need to rely on their managers all the time except when they cannot find any other solutions.
Ways to Exercise Supportive Leadership
1. Encourage Teamwork
One aspect that supportive leadership emphasizes is teamwork. Start by creating a team of skilled individuals that can perform the task at hand. The next step that a leader should do is make her expectations known. She does not assume that each team member knows what needs to be done.
The final and most important step that the leader should do is foster teamwork. She can achieve it by keeping open channels of communication and encouraging feedback, as well as recognizing the team members’ efforts and rewarding them. Establishing clear goals right off the bat is important, but so is the attitude of the team members throughout the project.
2. Show Commitment
Another way through which individuals can support their teams is by being devoted. A leader should be committed to both her team members and the project at hand. If the leader entertains doubts regarding the firm’s mission and objectives, the uncertainty will automatically be reflected in her team members’ activities. However, if the leader is fully committed, then her teammates will also be committed.
3. Focus on Relationships
Often, leaders make the mistake of neglecting relationships between teammates. Sure, a leader should always be focused on the main objectives, but that’s not to mean that there’s no room for forming quality relationships.
The relationships between the team members themselves and those between the leader and her teammates play a crucial role. In fact, it is such relationships that often determine how effectively objectives are met. If you want a highly committed team that gets tasks done, be a builder of relationships.
A suggestion is to plan a team building retreat where the employees can bond. With stronger relationships, team members may work more smoothly together.
4. Get Your Hands Dirty
One of the easiest ways for a leader to build empathy is to put herself in her teammates’ shoes. Even though she’s climbed up the ladder of hierarchy, it’s crucial that she reminds herself of routine activities by working alongside her colleagues. Gaining first-hand experience of the hardships that the teammates are likely to encounter makes her better placed in providing feasible solutions. Additionally, the leaders can discover new ways to improve how their teammates’ work.
Applicability of Supportive Leadership
As good as supportive leadership sounds, it cannot be applied in just any business environment. Supportive leadership is best suited for companies that adopt a flat organizational structure that encourages employees to be creative in managing projects. However, for a bureaucratic company that involves straightforward activities, a supportive style of leadership may not be the best fit. In fact, it can end up wasting both the employer’s and employees’ time and resources.
Whenever the term leadership is mentioned, being supportive isn’t one of the traits that come immediately to mind. However, it is quickly becoming a common style of leadership. Ideally, supportive leaders don’t just assign tasks. They also show authenticity and genuine interest in those that they work with.
Supportive leadership involves building trust, inspiration, and helping colleagues overcome the challenges they encounter. Leaders looking to be more supportive of their teams should try to encourage teamwork, pay attention to members’ relationships, and also show commitment.
However, supportive leadership is not applicable to every organization. It will work well in some settings but it won’t in others. More specifically, supportive leadership is suitable for flat organizations.
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