The Hierarchy of Supportive Leader Behaviors

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Numerous key behaviors are modeled by great leaders. Hundreds, if not thousands, of books and articles have been written about these behaviors and how leaders can embrace them, making them part of their leadership style. It can be argued that many great leaders are also great coaches, but what behaviors make a great coach?

A leader behavior study conducted in 1986 by Dr. Steve Stowell and Dr. Matt Starcevich made an in-depth comparison between the behaviors of effective coaches and their employees and ineffective coaches and their employees. The data from this study identified 47 behaviors that contribute to an effective coaching session. Of those, one of the most important was SUPPORT.

What is Support?

Support, or supportiveness, is to bear or hold up, to endure with patience or submission, to provide sympathy or encouragement, help, and additional information. To support is to sustain through difficult times, to maintain by providing what is needed to do one’s job, and to advocate when opportunities arise. According to Stowell and Starcevich,

Supportiveness is not an option when it comes to coaching. The success of a coaching discussion with an employee about needed changes or improvements to performance is determined by the employee’s perception of the leader’s supportiveness. No other factor is as important as this. The highly effective leaders that we studied devoted half of their time and attention to expressing some sort of supportive message. They were basically able to do two things: (1) express this apparently unconditional positive support very clearly to the employee, and (2) initiate a strong and clear problem-solving discussion without being punitive or demeaning to the employee.

The next question to ask then is this:

How much support as a coach and leader do I need to show during a coaching conversation?

Stowell and Starcevich answer this question quite clearly.

Support and the strong emphasis that we give it constitute the most distinguishing feature of our coaching process . . . The level of support employees attribute to managers is a matter of degrees. Employees always have a perception about the supportiveness of their managers. Because managers have no option—this perception cannot be avoided—the wise manager seeks to engage in behaviors that result in being viewed as supportive. To improve your effectiveness as a coach, increase the level of support as perceived by the employee.

This study indicated many ways effective leaders showed support in their coaching relationships. As a result of this research, which involved roughly 50,000 managers and 250,000 employees, Dr. Stowell identified ten distinct behaviors shown below in The Hierarchy of Supportive Leader Behaviors.

These behaviors are not organized in any particular order; however, collaboration/flexibility is the most important. Use this image to help trigger ideas on how you can be a more supportive coach to your employees and refer back to it regularly to help generate more ideas as your support skills become stronger.

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CMOE Design Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.