Supportive Leadership

Supportive leadership

I recently received an email about being a ‘Supportive’ DISC Leadership type. The individual wondered why we chose the word supportive, since it’s not typically associated with leaders.

I thought it was an important question to address and so I’ve shared my answer below!

Why is it Called “Supportive” Leadership?

The word ‘Supportive’ most accurately reflects the research and findings by the psychologist, William Moulton Marston, who created DISC. In each person’s personality makeup, there’s 4 buckets (DISC) and each person has a bit of each personality dimension to them. No leader is completely devoid of a Supportive dimension. 

Supportive is defined as, “giving help and encouragement”. Considering that 69% of people reported that their leaders had the same impact on their mental health as their partner, the way that a leader shows up is critical to employee health and motivation.

Traditionally, top down leadership has been authoritarian. With shifting workplace demands and generations that are focusing more on work-life balance and mental health, the focus has shifted to more of a supportive leadership style.

Other Words for Supportive Leadership

Here are some other terms to describe a Supportive: patient, diplomatic, flexible, and empathetic. If the word ‘supportive’ is making you cringe and you want to use a different word to describe this type, you can interchange it. Statistically, supportives make up 60-70% of the population, so there are many supportive leaders! You can feel free to adjust the wording as you present it, or read it personally. We use DISC to begin conversations around self-awareness and awareness of others, but there are many other factors that contribute to behaviours. 

Strengths and Challenges of Supportive Leadership

This diagram of the strengths and challenges of the Supportive Leadership Type come from the upgraded DISC personality assessment.

Supportive Leadership Strengths and Challenges

Supportive leaders are people focused. They show up and are focused on the harmony of the team, ensuring that they delegate instead of abdicate tasks and show servant leadership characteristics. They are generally well liked by the team and are invested in supporting the growth and development of their subordinates careers. When you work with a supportive leadership type, you will generally feel that they are approachable and empathetic when you are unable to show up at 100% capacity. Where a Dominant Leadership type lacks in tact and compassion, a supportive leadership style will shine in the awareness of others.

At the same time, a supportive leadership style also has its challenges. Often, supportive leaders are uncomfortable with conflict. This means that they can sweep issues under the rug, and not directly address underperformance which can create a status quo culture instead of leveling up to the team. They can also struggle with planning for the future and decision-making, which can slow the team down and hinder growth. Sometimes, they will hold a silent grudge and become stubborn with people who have offended them in the past.

Supportive Leadership and Credibility

We talk a lot in our Leadership Fundamentals course about the difference between being a ‘Title Leader’ (someone that holds a title but doesn’t have respect) vs a Traction Leader (someone that people want to actually follow and has trust and respect).

Trust and respect leaders are built via credibility. Supportives build that by serving others (among other traits). Diplomacy is an important characteristic of a great leader, which supportives do so well.

Supportive Leadership Table

Is Supportive Leadership Bad?

DISC teaches us that no one is broken and there’s no right or wrong scoring. Our society tells us that being supportive is more of a subordinate role, but in reality the best leaders are ones that are able to serve and care for those they lead.

Supportive Leadership Examples

In my experience, the absolute best leaders I’ve worked for had a combination of types, including Supportive type. I once worked for a DCS type boss that could navigate any situation with ease. He understood people. As a D/C myself, I often feel I would be much more suited to leadership if I only had that Supportive component. If I was a little higher in being able to serve and care for others well. I do think having a Supportive aspect in leadership is a superpower. I work hard to flex into that personality dimension and know I’d be better if I showed more of that servant leadership. 

How to Train others on Supportive Leadership

When facilitating this in a group or team, I’d always highlight both the strengths and challenges of the personality type. Just as a high D has their challenges in leadership, an S will as well. It’s all about increasing awareness about it, being open about challenges and being willing to flex to become better at communicating and leading. 

FAQ about Supportive Leadership

What is the effectiveness of the Supportive Leadership Style?

Supportive leadership is effective in creating team harmony and achieving consistent results. Supportive leaders serve their teams well and are very effective, especially when they are combined with a Dominant trait. Supportive leaders are natural at building teams with high levels of trust.

Which of the following is true about supportive leadership?

Supportive leaders are servant leaders, they are people focused, relational and team players.

What is a drawback of supportive leadership?

A drawback of supportive leadership is that they are poor planners for the future, can struggle with dealing with conflict and become content with the status quo.

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