Support as a Leader

I recently designed a “Train the Trainer” program for a large organization that is modernizing their leadership culture. My role is to develop the program and train the folks at the Director level on the process. They then provide the training to the managers and supervisors of this 400+ person organization.

The topic of this program was how become a “Supportive Leader”. The following are excerpts and nuggets from that training that I hope you will find beneficial both personally and for your organization.

Defining the Framework

When designing a professional development program it is imperative you define the fundamental thinking the training is based upon. To not do so significantly limits the impact of the training.

The following items define that thinking.

“Support” is an Organizational Asset

Supporting another is one of the most powerful relationship and culture building tools we have available to us. A team that has a supportive culture has a very powerful asset that it can use to goals that otherwise would be unattainable.

Nothing says that you care about another more than when you work to support them and their growth. And when one gives support to another the favor is often returned. Over time this dynamic goes viral in the organization with people becoming intrinsically motivated to insure it continues.

Encountering Well Intentioned Resisters

When working to support another it is possible to encounter well-intentioned resistance. While some people crave support, others have difficulty accepting it. The reasons can range from pride to embarrassment or simply that the person believes one resolves their own issues. Others still are so self sufficient that they don’t think to ask for help.

When encountering this type of resistance try nudging around the edges to find a way to offer the type of support that is in the best interest of everyone involved.

Support Does Not Always Feel Good

People often associate being supported with being agreed with or being given a helping hand. But sometimes the best support one can give is to disagree with someone or to have them address an issue on their own. It is in times such as these where the leader is supporting another’s growth instead of their wants.

The Importance of Communication

When you are supporting another’s growth instead of their wants, be aware they may feel abandoned because you are not “making their problem go away”. If these feelings arise and are not addressed, they can create resentments and damage relationships.

Therefore, it is important you stay tuned in to the “energy” of the person in question. If you sense a problem arising, be proactive and explain what you are doing and why you feel what you are doing is in their best interest.

While you should not abandon actions you feel are in an individual’s best interest, it is the leader’s job to insure those negative feelings are picked up on and addressed.

The Ultimate Goal – Growth

Regardless of the type of support you have chosen to provide, if what you are doing does not help the person or team to learn or grow then you are not really supporting them. In fact, “support” that is not empowering is not support at all. It is enabling and/or teaching weakness.

 Making it Relevant

The following are some tips you can use to increase your and your organization’s supportive leadership skills.  Supportive leaders create supportive cultures and supportive cultures are resilient cultures.

Understanding Your Role as a Supportive Leader

See yourself as a steward, a “protector” and a coach of your team. Stewards provides provide wisdom. Protectors provide safety. And Coaches provide challenges.

  1. Be committed to supporting the personal and professional growth and well being of those around you. Focus upon supporting their long-term needs not on gaining their short-term approval.
  2. Remember that support could be either giving them a helping hand or giving them room. (When helping a baby to learn to walk we often do it by staying out of their reach, but within their sight and encouraging them.)
  3. Stress that support is always bi-directional. They cannot expect to get what from others what they don’t give to others. So make sure you help them to understand that support is a two way street.

Tips for Leaders to Support their Team Members

  1. Understand the individual, as best you can. If you don’t understand them you will struggle to understand how best to support them.
  2. Ask questions. I often will ask a person how it is I might best support them. Why guess when I can simply ask? I can then decide if what they want is in their best interest. If it isn’t I can explain why it isnt, followed by an explanation of the support they can expect and why.
  3. Be as transparent as possible about your motives and reasoning. Helping them to understand your “why” you are choosing to support them in the way you are eliminates confusion and reduces frustration.
  4. Allow for failures. Failures and their consequences are like rewards – they are excellent teachers. Just be certain the size of failure is a bump and not a bomb!
  5. Be consistent with accountability, yet allow for enough flexibility to leave room for innovation and creativity.
  6. Allow for them to express their individual and collective creativity especially when it comes to problem solving. Support them in finding and using a style that works for them. What do you care if they do it differently than you would, as long as you get the desired result?
  7.  Teach them independence by “teaching them to fish” as much as possible. But don’t let them starve if they aren’t catching any.


When an organization’s leaders are supportive of those around them and are committed to making the concept of everyone supporting one another a pillar in their culture everyone wins.

Morale increases, production increases and, as a result, profits increase too.

It is a simple formula. And it always works.

Leave a comment

Avatar About the Author:

previous arrow
next arrow