What Is a Supportive Leadership Style?

A supportive leadership style takes on a thoughtful, empathetic, and customized approach to set up team members for long-term success.

Rather than merely assigning responsibilities, leaders who take on a supportive leadership style ensure each workforce member has the necessary resources and skills to:

  • Work independently
  • Make their own decisions
  • Complete their assigned project within the given time frame
  • Achieve the desired level of quality for the project

Overall, supportive leaders offer guidance to help their team members make the best decisions and navigate their professional journey with confidence.

Why Is Supportive Leadership Important?

Supportive leadership is vital in creating a team that is empowered to develop their professional skills and possess the ability to work autonomously.

More specifically, supportive leadership can:

  • Fuel professional development: Supportive leaders put their workforce members’ learning and development front and center. Leaders look at what team members need and work with them to find a solution.
  • Establish a more positive team environment: When leaders express supportive behaviors, it creates a sense of psychological safety that can fuel a positive team environment.

shaking hands with smiling woman

What Are the Mechanics of a Supportive Leader?

There are two main mechanics involved in a supportive leadership approach. These mechanics can help you better understand the key principles involved in this leadership style.


In a traditional leadership style, leaders generally assign tasks to their team members, establish a deadline, and leave them to complete their projects.

But in a supportive leadership style, there is a continuous dialogue between leaders and team members. This dialogue involves proactive feedback (from both sides) and discussions to ensure team members are on the right track and leveraging the right tools and resources.

The goal of the dialogue should be to take the interests of team members to heart and foster better relationships with them.


Supportive leaders coach. Coaching involves two areas of focus—performance and development.

  • Performance coaching focuses on influencing team members via feedback on the results they produce. This entails reinforcing good, desirable behaviors and calling people out when they are off track.
  • Development coaching offers coachees feedback and guidance that helps them learn from their experiences and gain better expertise and judgment. This may involve conflict management or offering guidance on how someone can leverage their strengths to identify a viable solution.

Coaching helps professionals adopt a more flexible leadership approach, enabling leaders to strike the right balance between performance and development. This balance can ultimately bring in higher productivity and revenue. (Departments with a strong coaching culture experience a 14 to 29 percent increase in profits).

What Are the Qualities of a Supportive Leader?

Three main qualities encompass a supportive leader. We’ve listed them below with tips on how you can begin to incorporate them today.

1. Collaborative

Rather than taking a top-down approach, a supportive leader fosters an open and collaborative environment. Each workforce member has equal say in all decisions and proactively contributes to the overall success of the team and organization. A collaborative mindset helps teams perform five times better.

How: Understand the Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Team Member

To help team members work cohesively, leaders must understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. This information can be sought out through 1:1 discussions or periodic peer feedback forms.

Discovering strengths and weaknesses can help supportive leaders assess how they can better assign project responsibilities and further unite their team members based on these traits.

2. Guiding

Instead of dictating to team members, supportive leaders offer guidance. They allow team members to express any concerns they may have and use that information to guide them toward the right resources.

How: Regular Check-Ins

Check in with your team members each week. These check-ins should help you assess how their project/assignment is coming along and the level of support you need to provide to ensure your team member achieves success.

3. Empathetic

Being an approachable and empathetic leader can show how supportive you are. This requires initiating candid but caring discussions that do not demean the team member in any way. Supportive leaders feel and show empathy.

How: Actively Listen

According to the Harvard Business Review, “a humble and curious question goes a long way toward building better empathy and situational awareness.” Actively listening to your team members fosters a safe and supportive environment—one where people are not afraid to speak up and display vulnerability.

Listening requires:

  • Making eye contact
  • Allowing the other party to speak
  • Asking follow-up questions to help you better understand your team members
  • Making the right nonverbal gestures to indicate you are listening and understanding

For more guidance and information on supportive leadership qualities, be sure to read about supportive leadership behaviors.