We all know that effective leadership is crucial for a thriving organization so much so that it feels like a cliché by simply acknowledging it. Leadership effectiveness has been integral to the field of applied organizational research for over half of a century. We have explored the topic many times (see: articles on leadership) and are always fascinated by effective leaders. Over the years, we have seen charismatic leadership, Rushmorean leadership, servant leadership, transformational leadership, etc… The wealth of different categories and definitions of leadership can become overwhelming at times, which is why it is nice to look at actual concrete behaviors. The purpose of today’s blog is to do just that, by exploring an important early leadership behavior that leads to positive organizational outcomes- supervisor support.
What is supervisor support?
Supervisor support is defined as the extent to which leaders value their employees’ contributions and care about their well-being. A leader with high supervisor support is one that makes employees feel heard, valued, and cared about. Although it sounds simple, providing this kind of support is one of the hardest transitions to make when promoted from employee to supervisor. The move from “process expert” to “motivational leader” is possibly one of the largest steps one can take in his/her working life. If you are a supervisor or manager, take a minute to reflect on how you handled this hurdle. Was it easy?
So why is supervisor support so important for effective leadership? Because it is one of the key behaviors that effective leaders develop as soon as they move from individual contributor to manager. (In fact, it leads to positive outcomes at all levels of leadership) In specific terms, organizational research has identified a myriad of positive outcomes associated with high supervisor support, including:
- Increased job satisfaction
- Stronger person-organization fit (degree to which personality/beliefs/values match organizational culture)
- Increased organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB)
- Improved employee perceptions of organizational support
- Improved relationships with employees
- In-role and extra-role performance
- Reduced job tension
- Reduced work-family conflict
- Reduced turnover (a secondary effect)
As you can see, supervisor support is a strong predictor of numerous positive outcomes. So much so that if you were creating a leader and could choose the behaviors that she/he would embody, this should definitely be in the top five.
How to promote supervisor support
What can you start doing right now to be seen as a supportive leader? Researchers have identified the following practical applications to improve employee perceptions of supervisor support:
- Engage/Involve your employees: involve your employees in task-planning and decision making, ask for their ideas and implement them, hold process-improvement meetings where you facilitate brainstorming sessions to identify creative ways to improve the structure of your work (the list goes on!). For more ideas, see our Employee Involvement blog here.
- Show concern for your employees: it is important for employees to know that you see them as more than a cog in a greater machine. Take the time to inquire into their lives (ask questions!), look them in the eyes when you talk to them, ask how they feel about their work and listen to what they have to say without interrupting or becoming defensive. The goal here is to convey that you care about how they feel, so shift the focus towards them whenever you can.