Managers who support rather than challenge 


We all want managers who are supportive. A little bit of praise goes along way whereas constant critics undermines confidence and can be demotivating. All to often we hear of managers who don’t  let staff know they value their work or are too quick to allocate blame when something goes wrong. So when you read staff feedback that management are supportive you think they must be doing something right. But you would be wrong. 


A recent inspection  report criticised managers for being supportive rather than challenging. The inspectors claimed that managers were failing to question decisions resulting in other options not being considered, opportunities missed and poorer outcomes.

It is of course all about getting the balance right. Challenge too hard, too often or inappropriately and it’s bullying. Support uncritically and its a failure to manage. 


So what does it mean to be a supportive manager? It means recognising and acknowledging when there are difficulties. It involves expressing confidence in the individual’s ability, valuing their contribution, when necessary revitalising the individual and generally making them feel good about themselves and their work. Being supportive involves developing the individual by encouraging them to stretch themselves and take up learning opportunities. For most people having a supportive manager means recognising they are an individual not a work drone. That they have good and bad days, that sometimes things outside of work effect their performance and that they should be cut some slack occasionally. It does not mean allowing people to get away with poor attendance, ignoring bad practise or accepting lower standards. 


Knowing when and how to support and when and how to challenge is part of being an effective manager. It’s a rare manager who always gets the balance right but it is  a skill that can be developed if your prepared to listen to the advice of HR and learn from more experienced colleagues. 


Blair Mcpherson former Director author and blogger


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