4 Easy Steps To Become A More Supportive Leader

Written by in Practices
- 5 min read

Many of our Bucket List companies have radically changed their directive leadership style to a much more supportive one. Why? Because a big source of employee disengagement is poor leadership.

We’ve written a lot on supportive leadership and how progressive organizations are trying to incorporate it into their day-to-day work life. In this post, we propose a format to help you implement a very powerful practice: letting employees evaluate their managers.

From directive to supportive leadership

One of the 8 trends of the highly progressive workplaces we’ve identified is the move from directive to supportive leadership; from telling people what to do, to coaching them to excel; from giving answers to asking questions.

In a widely shared blog (“If Employees Quit Because Of Managers, Why Not Fire All The Managers?“) we discussed three ways to establish zero tolerance for bad leadership. These are listed here in order of rebelliousness—starting with the most extreme.

Fire all the managers

Some organizations get rid of managers entirely—and become self-managed enterprises. Examples? The nurses at Buurtzorg, the civil servants at municipality Hollands Kroon and the workers at Morning Star. These are just a few places where employees do not take orders from managers. Why? Because there are no managers to take orders from!

Let employees select their leaders

Other progressive organizations opt to create more supportive leadership. They let employees select their own leaders. At Haufe-Umantis leaders are democratically elected every year, and at Polish company,  u2i, employees are free to choose their own mentors.

Let employees evaluate their leaders

Even if firing or electing managers is too radical, there is another powerful way to increase supportive leadership: make all manager performance evaluations entirely transparent. Read about this practice at UKTV.

Why do this? So leaders can identify when and where bad leadership occurs—and so underperformers can be trained, or relocated to positions that fit them better.

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A practical approach to evaluate leadership

In our client work we are often asked:“What is the best way to let employees evaluate their leaders?”We say there is a choice between two very different options: the thorough way and the quick-and-dirty way.

The thorough way probably sounds more attractive. You gather information from a number of sources. You analyse it. You benchmark with tools available on the market. And finally you ensure alignment with all internal processes.

If you follow this process you’ll most certainly not upset anyone. But you’ll almost certainly get nowhere. You’ll spend ages on analysis and alignment without achieving the thing you most wanted: evaluating leaders.

Surprise, surprise, we prefer the quick-and-dirty way. Design a simple experiment in a single team or department. Execute it. Adjust based on the outcomes. Repeat this over and over until you craft your ideal way of working.

To give you a head start, here is a format we use. It’s simple, easy-to-use, and certainly not perfect—which makes it the ideal starting point for an experiment.

1. Create a form

Create a super-simple survey and send it out to your team to get feedback. We suggest you make replies anonymous at first. This makes it easier for people to share their deepest feelings.

First, explain why you want to evaluate leadership, and what you want to get from this experiment. Then, ask these simple questions:

  • Which leadership skills do you value most in your manager? And why?
  • Which leadership skills are you currently missing? And why?
  • What would you encourage your manager to stop doing? And why?

A simple survey like this can be created through Google Forms.

2. Start a dialogue

Schedule a team meeting to discuss the outcomes of the survey. This is a crucial part of the experiment. It’s sometimes hard for a leader to hear painful feedback. Ensure you have a high quality discussion. And have a positive attitude towards the future. Avoid focusing on the negative aspects of the past.

Optionally: invite a facilitator to guide the meeting.

3. Define two improvement actions

A good dialogue is important, but certainly not enough. Therefore, use the meeting to define two improvement actions for the manager.

  • One thing I will start doing is…
  • One thing I will stop doing is…

Without nailing down 2 tangible actions, it’s likely that nothing significant will change. Defining the actions—and limiting them to two at any time—focuses effort and prioritizes action.

4. Measure progress

As team and leader have now jointly defined two improvement actions, it’s time to put them into action. To focus and track progress it’s important to create some type of measurement. If you measure the improvement actions over the course of a month you will have valuable data to discuss in evaluating the experiment.

The measure can be very simple: e.g. ask employees to rate improvement actions on a scale from 1-10 on a weekly basis. “Keep it simple” is the most important advice here.

Experiment, evaluate, repeat

The power of experimentation lies in repetition and improvement. Keep improving the experiment based on the outcomes of the previous one. Constantly upgrade and fine-tune your way of working.

So, if you and your team are ready to build more supportive leadership, we encourage you to try the suggested experiment. Get your team excited, go through the simple steps, and adjust your experiment based on the outcomes.

Lead the way. Be a pioneer in your organization. Chances are other teams and departments will follow.

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Replies (3)



Thanks for another great post. I suppose the obvious question is how do you get an organisation that has entrenched views about hierarchy and the role of leader/manager -- in the traditional sense -- to embrace some or all of what you're sharing? As someone who has been talking about self-organising companies (and Teal) for a while now, I'm amazed still how few people, particularly in the HR space, have investigated let alone understood the underlying methodology. Take care. Julian

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John Mortimer

John Mortimer

Yep, thats an interesting and practical approach to take.
I would like to add something about the 'fire all managers' approach. If you are working on a transformation and one of the areas is actually an agreement to redefine management roles, this is something I have used effectively, that I would like to share:

1. You have reached the point where you and the leaders have agreed that things need to change, and that there is a prototype design already tested, to move forward with. The prototype has roles for staff doing the work.
2. You have agree with the top leader, before the meeting that the top leader will say the phrase "the trial has worked well, with the staff we have. Why would be need anyone else? Why do we need managers?"
2. With managers and leaders in the room, the top leader says the phrase.
3. The room goes very quiet, and then the top leader says "work with John and the team, and when you find out, lets talk."

That creates ownership, enquiry, an impetus for change, and a genuine purpose, and a real desire to work with me and the team. It also demonstrates leadership from the top.

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Very simple action steps making this article very applicable to those just starting to develop awareness of their workplace behaviours and how they affect the team. Thank you for sharing.

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