October 21, 2015
Technology is not the only thing that is changing the way business gets done. Along with cloud and mobile, data and analytics, come the changes associated with a new generation of employees and managers. In many ways, the styles of the new generation differ significantly from the styles of their parents and grandparents.
One way that this is becoming evident is in the evolution of the 'supportive leadership' management style. Executives and managers for previous generations simply came to work each day, issued the orders, and expected employees to fall into step and execute those orders. That is changing.
Supportive Leadership Defined
Supportive leadership steps away from the dictator style of the manager who simply issues orders and moves into a collaborative style where every team member has a say in what they do and how the do it.
Supportive leadership is best illustrated by example. Suppose that Manager A needs to increase production by 10% by the end of the fiscal year. In the traditional management style, Manager A would do some research, perhaps conduct some analysis, and determine what needs to be done to reach the goal. Manager A then dictates his instructions to his employees, who work towards meeting the manager's demands.
Now picture another manager: Manager B. Manager B gets the same instructions to increase production by 10% by the end of the fiscal year. Yet Manager B approaches the challenge quite differently. He assembles his team and explains the situation. Then he offers support, encouragement, and resources as his team members work to develop a plan to meet the goal and execute the plan they've collaborated upon and decided upon.
Supportive Leadership in Practice
Reading these scenarios, the first thing that likely leaps to mind for anyone used to the old style of management is that Manager B has lost control. In fact, the opposite is true. Employees not only are more likely to follow Manager B, but they feel a much deeper sense of loyalty to the manager who hears them out, gives them freedoms, allows them to develop their own talents and skills, and is supportive of their efforts. Manager B hasn't relinquished his leadership; he has changed the dynamics of leadership and earned his employees' trust and respect in the process.
Teams that are allowed to come up with their own solutions can bring a wide range of viewpoints, experiences, ideas, and strengths to the mix. This usually produces a far better result than a single mind at work, even if it's a great mind. Furthermore, these teams feel a sense of pride and ownership in their work. They own it, assume responsibility for it, and are personally vested in the outcome in a way they never could be when merely executing the ideas of another person.
Supportive Leadership in Corporate Culture
Though supportive leadership can be a powerful tool in the right environment, it doesn't work in every business and every situation.
Though supportive leadership can be a powerful management style, it does not work in every business and in every situation. The nature of supportive leadership makes it incredibly valuable in industries that demand a high level of creativity and unique problem-solving skills. However, in industries where the work is rigid and already well defined, the time and effort involved in supportive leadership techniques could merely be wasteful -- essentially reinventing the wheel all the time.
For example, there's no need for a team of finance professionals to brainstorm over how to create a budget for next year or for a team of production workers in a manufacturing facility to collaborate on how to assemble a product. There are usually already established practices and procedures for these types of tasks that don't require any creativity or reinvention. In order for supportive leadership to be useful and effective, the industry and culture of the organization have to lend well to collaboration and creative problem solving.
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