Ask ten people to describe the best coaches they have experienced and chances are seven or more will mention support in some way. Underline and highlight that fact in your personal thinking about coaching.
The best coaches are supportive.
Knowing and agreeing with that idea is one thing. Knowing what that means and being able to identify and exhibit supportive behaviors is something else entirely. And that is the point of this article: identifying and explaining some specific behaviors that will help you be supportive of others.
Eight Supportive Behaviors
Collaborate. As a leader or supervisor, you cannot do everyone’s work, or do their work for them. You must, of course, delegate and empower others to do their work. And yet as a leader you must create a sense of shared ownership. You need to see yourself (and the team needs to see you) as a part of the team. While your role may be different, you are still a part of the team. When you see yourself, and act as a part of the team, others will feel supported in their actions. Remember, delegation isn’t the same as abdication, and as such you must see yourself as a collaborator.
Help/assist. Along this same line, you support others when we are willing to lend a hand. My earliest and best experience with this concept is thanks to my father. Growing up on a commercial hog farm meant that there were always some (very) unpleasant jobs to be done. On many occasions I remember being given these unsavory jobs while Dad was away at a meeting or tending to other farm-related business. In most every case, if he returned while I was still doing the unsavory task, he changed his clothes and picked up a pitchfork or shovel. Perhaps you lead a team who has tasks you can’t do directly. If that is the case you can still assist. Find out what you can do to help, especially when the timeline is short and the work is long.
Empathize. To empathize is to understand how the other person feels. One of the most important things you can ever do is let people know you understand how they are feeling. You may not agree with their perspective, you may even think there were actions they could have taken to avoid the situation they now find themselves in (those may be points for personnel coaching at the appropriate time). But legitimately empathizing is one of the most supportive things you can do for another person or group.
Recognize someone’s value. I’m guessing your children don’t always exhibit behaviors you approve of, yet we all will always love our children. And think about it, even little children can tell the different between their behavior and their intrinsic value. When you let people know you value them as an individual you are supporting them. When you do have to give feedback about performance, it is important that you separate performance from who they are. We are supportive when we care about people and show it (and not just say it).
Recognize their goals and interests. People are more than their on-the job performance. When you know something about people’s strengths, interests and long term objectives, you can often help them reach those objectives and support those interests. This isn’t about giving people complete freedom to do whatever they want on the job. To the contrary, you are being supportive of others when you help them succeed in their current job – and help them reach toward their personal and professional goals too.
Listen. One of the most supportive things you can do (for anyone) is to really listen. This is even truer when you are in any position of power (or perceived to be). Stop what you are doing. Remove the distractions. Be quiet, and listen. When you listen you are showing you value their feelings and opinions. When you listen you are communicating that you care. This may seem so basic, but it is so powerful. Why? Because most people reported that they are rarely truly listened to. Yet, when someone takes the time to really listen actively, it is a meaningful and memorable conversation. When that person listening is our leader or supervisor, it is even more supportive and more powerful. Always remember the power of listening, especially when you are in a position of power or influence with the other person.
Give positive feedback. Do you want to be more supportive? Tell people more often what they do well and what they are doing right. Almost no know hears this type of feedback often enough. Almost everyone I know has a story about a specific piece of positive feedback they received in their life – often in their distant past. Ask people to tell you their stories. You’ll be able to tell in their words and their eyes how powerful and supportive specific and genuine positive feedback can be.
Create positive exchanges. Do you know people who seem to light up the room . . . when they leave? That’s the opportunity I am talking about here! Make it your goal that every conversation, exchange and encounter with you leaves the other person feeling good or better about themselves, their situations and/or life in general. That statement is a benchmark that may be very difficult to live up to; however, making it your goal will allow you to be a more supportive person.
When you exhibit these behaviors in a genuine, authentic way you encourage and support people to become the very best they can be. Isn’t that the goal of coaching anyway?