Supportive leadership is one of the most important parts of being an effective leader. In fact, a recent McKinsey survey found that being supportive was at the top of the list of effective leadership behaviours.
For leaders who are internally focused and ambitious, this may seem counterintuitive. It means focusing outside of yourself and on your team first, rather than just your own personal success.
A professional cyclist doesn’t get very far if she focuses completely on her fitness and forgets about maintaining the bicycle that is taking her to the finish line. The show-jumping horse rider won’t win if he turns up to the competition with a weak, starving horse.
So it is with leadership. If you’re supportive, the people that you lead will make you look good, and the results will take care of themselves.
Supportive Leadership Is More Than Just Focusing On Your Team
At first glance, it may seem like supportive leadership must be all about focusing on your team members.
Focusing on your team members is definitely important. However, we must also be aware of the environment in which our team operates and our own internal state of mind. Both of these factors enable us show supportive leadership.
An insecure leader is always focused internally, trying to avoid blame and scrutiny, which takes the focus away from supporting their team.
The manager who focuses exclusively on developing their team and being present is only doing half the job, because they may struggle if they don’t monitor the environment in which their team operates.
Let’s look at behaviours that will help you work from inside (The Self) to the outside (The Environment) of the circle.
Learn More: Are You an Insecure Leader? Watch for These 10 Signs.
Build Relationships With the Right People to Improve Your Mindset
Supportive leaders need to have a strong sense of self-worth and a willingness to remain positive. This can be achieved by surrounding yourself with the right people.
Who are the right people? These are people who can help you by:
- Acting as a sounding board to test your ideas
- Letting you vent your frustration safely, when you need to let off steam
- Demonstrating positive attitudes and behaviours
- Keeping you focused on what you can do to improve, rather than on all the reasons why you can’t. This stops you from falling into the victim mindset.
The right people will help you demonstrate supportive leadership, because they will encourage a more positive frame of mind. When you feel good, you are more likely to be able to support your team.
Supportive Leadership Means Taking Care of Your Own Attitude
I’ve been in situations at work where I’m fed up. I’ve had enough. I’m frustrated, annoyed and angry. Guess what happens? My care factor drops, and I start being a less supportive leader.
Check in with yourself frequently and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you moving towards your goals? Or getting further away?
- Are your frustration levels sky high? What could you do to improve them?
- Are you able to be the leader you want to be in your current role?
- Do you care about what your team or organisation is trying to achieve?
If the answers to these questions show that you’re off track, you need to take action. Identify some positive steps that you can take to help your mindset. If your mind is not healthy, you won’t be able to help your team.
When I was struggling, one of my former bosses used to say:
“Get your mind right.”
This is great advice, which I still use today.
Support Your Team By Being Available
When managers are too busy, they start to lose focus on their team. If you are constantly in meetings and never available for people to find you, then your team are on their own.
To make yourself available to your team:
- Meet regularly: Schedule regular individual meetings with your team members, and don’t cancel them
- Monitor your body language: You might think you’re available, but does anybody feel comfortable approaching you? If you have your headphones on all day, or act annoyed when people speak to you, you’ll likely appear unavailable for your team.
- Prioritise your important tasks, and reduce focus on the rest. Stop just being busy, start managing your time effectively. Remember that busy does not mean productive.
Supportive Leadership Means Accepting Failure as a Normal Part of Improvement
Leaders who never allow their people to fail are doing them a disservice. Failure is always a possibility, and if you learn from it, it can be very useful.
Supportive leadership is about letting your people work things out for themselves, and being there to provide guidance when things aren’t going quite right. It’s not about protecting your team at all times.
Your team members need to be able to fight their own battles. If you step in at the first sign of trouble, you are sending the message that you don’t think they can handle it by themselves. This undermines your team, and people outside of your team will think you don’t trust your own crew.
Keep in mind that some team members need more help than others. It’s important to be flexible and adapt your leadership style to suit the situation.
To make failure less threatening for your team:
- Let them fight their own battles while you monitor what happens. Step in when you need to. Debrief with your team member to see how the situation could have been improved. Then let them run with the actions to address any issues.
- Provide your team members with more accountability to help them grow in skill and confidence.
- Avoid the blame game. Teams work better when people know you’re all in it together.
Learn More: Team Accountability Builder Online Course.
Supportive Leadership Means Aligning Your Important Stakeholders
Many leaders focus on their team so much, that they forget about everyone else. But it’s important to observe how your team works with others.
You need to make sure that people outside of your team are aligned with what you’re trying to achieve.
For example, if you are trying to improve your team’s processes, you can’t afford to have people outside of your team undermining your efforts, wanting things to stay the same.
Let’s look at a simple example.
You feel like your team spends too much time doing reporting every month. You want to streamline the process, and you ask your team members to simplify their reporting.
Unless you consult with the stakeholders who use this report, they might keep expecting the information presented in the old way.
Without setting the expectations of your key stakeholders, your efforts to make improvements in your team will struggle to be successful.
To align your stakeholders:
- Organise regular meetings with key people to keep them briefed about what you are trying to achieve.
- Let them know the part that you would like them to play in helping you improve the team.
- Then, let them know what’s in it for them – that is, why they should support you. This is important to gain buy-in!
Learn More: Stakeholder Management Tips For the Everyday Leader.
Supportive leadership is more than focusing on your team. It’s also about taking care of yourself and understanding the needs of the people around you.
Be careful not to become so focused on trying to support and protect your team, that you lose sight of the whole picture. This will make it more difficult to use supportive leadership to help your team to thrive.