Are You Being Supportive or Directive? Why Leaders Should Know the Difference

In leadership, one size does not fit all. Misjudge the environment, and your actions could be counterproductive. Recent and not so recent research confirms that the most effective leadership style should be in sync with the developmental needs of the person you’re leading. So, as a leader, do you know when to be supportive and when to be directive?

The Changing Dynamics of Leadership

Every individual, at various times, stands on different steps of the developmental ladder. An inexperienced team member might require step-by-step guidance, while a seasoned professional might need space and autonomy. The balance between giving too much or too little direction can significantly impact an individual’s growth and the team’s outcome.

A true leader blends seamlessly with the team, celebrating milestones; making victories a collective achievement. Contrastingly, a directive manager, with a rigid top-down approach, might achieve sales targets but at the cost of team cohesion and trust.

Understanding Leader Behaviour: A Fourfold Classification

The path-goal theory presents four leader behaviour styles – supportive, directive, achievement-oriented, and participative.

Supportive Leadership is about fostering a nurturing environment. This approach shows concern for team members’ welfare, promoting positive morale, and encouraging participation in the decision-making process. A supportive leader boosts autonomy and individuality, empowering team members in a cohesive group setting.

Directive Leadership is task-oriented. The leader outlines the “what”, “how”, and “when” of tasks. Such leaders manage interactions and focus heavily on efficiency and time management. Under this leadership, employees often follow instructions without taking much personal initiative.

Participative Leadership revolves around consultation. The leader values feedback, involves subordinates in decision-making, and encourages group discussions.

Achievement-oriented Leadership pushes for excellence. These leaders set challenging goals and help team members to attain these standards.

A reminder, these aren’t rigid personality types but behavioural styles that leaders can adopt based on situational needs.

The Pros and Cons

Supportive leadership has been observed to cultivate empowered teams with positive dependencies. The freedom of open communication, however, can sometimes lead to conflicts due to diverse viewpoints.

On the other hand, while directive leadership can drive higher productivity, it often results in reduced satisfaction and diminished team cohesion. Communication is often one-sided, limiting the scope for innovative ideas.

Breaking it down, directive leaders mould team competencies, focus on tasks, and control interactions. Supportive leaders, in contrast, nurture professional relationships, promote professional development, and facilitate interactions.

Which Approach Should You Choose?

The choice isn’t binary. It’s the art of leadership calibration.

Consider an employee lacking confidence: a supportive leadership style provides the necessary encouragement. For a team member facing an ambiguous task and underperforming, directive leadership can clarify objectives. If a task doesn’t challenge a team member, infusing an achievement-oriented approach can elevate their goals. Similarly, if a team member is incorrectly rewarded, participative leadership can engage them in a discussion to rectify the reward system.

Leaders must be agile, adapting their style based on the situation. Implementing directive behaviours like setting SMART goals, establishing timelines, clarifying roles, or developing action plans can be vital in certain contexts. However, there are moments (probably many more than you might think) when simply showing concern for an employee’s well-being, fostering team cohesion, or facilitating discussions can yield significant dividends.

Over my years working with founders and leaders, it’s obvious to me that leadership isn’t about sticking to a single playbook. It’s a dance, requiring leaders to be observant, empathetic, and adaptive. So, the next time you’re in a leadership position, ask yourself: am I being supportive or directive? And more importantly, is this the most effective approach for this individual or situation?

The right approach at the right time can be the catalyst for outstanding achievements.



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