Supportive leaders are usually people that everyone wants to work for. After all, isn’t it great when somebody helps you to accomplish your goals?
Of course it is. But there are a few things that supportive leaders need to be wary of. As with just about everything in leadership, it’s all about finding a balance.
In this post, we look at some of the traps for supportive leaders and how we can best avoid them to achieve better outcomes for our teams and workplaces.
Supportive Leaders vs. Protective Leaders
In my experience, some of the biggest problems that supportive leaders face occur when they step over the line from being supportive to becoming too protective of their teams.
Protecting team members from criticism or failure is never going to help them succeed. In fact, it might just hold them back and prevent them from achieving their potential.
Some leaders are protective of their teams because they feel that a team member’s performance is a direct reflection on themselves and their leadership.
As such, any criticism or problem involving the team is seen as a personal attack on their credibility.
While we all have a part to play in our team’s performance, it’s usually unreasonable to suggest that anything bad that happens in a team can be attributed to the leadership. Therefore, it’s useful for leaders to take a step back and be able to impartially assess what their teams are doing.
Trap #1: Ignoring Criticism
The first trap for supportive leaders is ignoring negative feedback or criticism from people that your team works with. It’s natural to want to take criticism with a grain of salt. After all, we can’t just believe what everyone else is saying instead of trusting our team members.
However, when you take an overly supportive approach and stand up for your team no matter what, you’re taking a few risks.
Firstly, you run the risk of your team upsetting people in your workplace because you haven’t listened to feedback about what they’re doing.
Second, you run the risk of losing credibility as a leader, because you are seen to be doing nothing about the problem.
Losing credibility can make leaders less effective, as people start to lose trust in their judgement and their ability to make positive change.
Ignoring criticism of your team is a quick way to lose credibility, especially if the feedback about your team really was justified.
Instead of Ignoring Critical Feedback, Do Some Investigation
I’ve found it’s always useful to be open to the possibility that my team has done something wrong. However, I never assume it is the case – it’s just possible, that’s all. It’s equally (or more likely to be!) possible that they have done the right thing.
This means that when people criticise your team, it’s worth doing some investigation to get to the bottom of the issue. Most of the time, issues between teams don’t occur because of malicious intent.
Usually I find they happen because of confused accountabilities or a lack of consultation or collaboration. The first step to resolving the criticism is to understand more about it, so you can take the appropriate action.
Trap #2: Withholding Feedback from Your Team Members
When you’re trying your best to support your team, it can be tempting to shower them with praise and encouragement. But if you’ve got some constructive feedback to share, then you’re not doing them any favours by holding it back.
Effectively giving constructive feedback to your team members all comes down to the execution.
Listening to their point of view helps, and empathy goes a long way. Being specific with the feedback is the next step, followed by working with them to come up with an alternative approach that might have worked better.
There is no value in passing on blame, because any trust you’ve built in the past will be shattered. As I always suggest, it’s always useful to think of the long-term outcomes. An example of short-term thinking would be to withhold the feedback, to avoid hurting your team member’s feelings.
Long-term thinking means passing on the feedback as soon as you can, so that your team members can improve. This also means you can avoid that uncomfortable conversation months later when your team member says “But you never told me that I was doing it wrong?!”
Trap #3: Giving Full Autonomy
Most of us know by now that providing autonomy is a great way to motivate team members. However, supportive leaders need to be wary of being too “hands-off” with their teams.
Hands-off leadership is not being a supportive leader. Being too hands-off means you’re not providing the appropriate oversight for your team while they’re working. Sometimes, this can backfire if your team member goes off in the wrong direction while you’re looking the other way.
Providing Too Much Autonomy Might Just Be Poor Time Management
Sometimes, I feel that providing autonomy is used as an excuse by leaders who are not managing their time effectively. Having trust in your team is a great thing. But being unavailable to support your team and provide appropriate oversight is not supportive leadership. It’s bad time management.
There are, of course, different levels of autonomy that we can provide to our teams, depending on the work and the skill, experience and motivation of our team members.
In my experience, having no oversight is always a bad thing. It’s unreasonable for team members to expect to be able to do whatever they want without providing at least some sort of progress update or checking in.
Supportive leaders are great, but they need to be careful not to step over the line into bad leadership behaviours. Be sure to investigate criticism, pass on constructive feedback to your team and make sure you keep the right amount of oversight over the work your team members are doing.
An unsupportive leader hurts a team. But don’t forget that being overly supportive can damage your team too. Let’s make sure we get the balance just right.
Do you agree or disagree? Have you seen any other traps that supportive leaders fall into? Let me know in the comments below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.