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Helpful or Supportive – Is There a Leadership Difference?

I remember someone saying to me it is better to be supportive of team members than always trying to help them. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the more I worked with and coached women looking to grow personally and professionally, the more I understood the empowering difference between helpful and supportive.

woman leading her team


Let’s take a look at the definitions from Dictionary.com:

Help – To save or rescue.

Support – To add strength.

What do you think? Can you see the difference between the two definitions?

When you look at your leadership style, would you say that you are generally more helpful or supportive?

I’m not saying not to be helpful to team members; I am saying that developing a “supportive” style of leadership will probably create a more independent team. I call it the difference between mothering and mentoring team members.

The Mothering style of leadership usually involves:
• Being available at all times
• Doing many of the tasks yourself
• Micro-managing the events or assignments
• Keeping a close and watchful eye on the activities and members
• Giving orders

The Mentoring style of leadership usually involves:
• Setting boundaries and/or office hours
• Showing how to do tasks and then letting team members complete them
• Allowing the team to work out solutions to day-to-day challenges
• Establishing accountability but allowing for flexibility
• Gathering ideas from team members and brain-storming the solutions

The Mothering style of leadership seems to encourage dependency and lowers the self-confidence level of team members. The Mentoring style promotes independence and enhances self-sufficiency and confidence.

In order for your team to grow and flourish, their needs to be a balance between knowing when to be helpful and when to be supportive.

How do you speak to your team members?
• Let me do that for you vs. let me show you where to find the answers.
• I’ll go with you and help vs. do you have questions I can answer before you leave?
• It has to be done this way vs. how would you do this task?

Being helpful at the right time under the right circumstances is important. There is nothing wrong with helping as long as you aren’t creating a dependent environment.

Something to think about:
In a team building situation, are you more helpful or supportive?
Which do you believe will encourage a strong and independent team?
Do you unconsciously become your team’s “mother” or “mentor?”
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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Deborah January 31, 2014, 7:26 am

    I thought I was more helpful than supportive. But, after reading the post, I’m actually more supportive than helpful. I know that I can’t do everything (and I don’t want to). So, I need my employees to be capable of doing their own work well.

    • sharonmichaels January 31, 2014, 7:37 am

      You are a great leader!!! And you’re right, you can’t do everything – that’s a powerful leadership realization.

  • Tricia January 31, 2014, 2:10 pm

    Another GREAT post Sharon. Once again, you lead by example! In reflecting on your post, I think teachers and parents are also leaders. Nothing builds self-confidence in children more than having the adults in their lives send the message that they believe the child can do it; the adults are only there for support if needed!

    • sharonmichaels January 31, 2014, 2:38 pm

      Thank you for the kind words 🙂

      Teachers and parents are our first leaders…They shape our lives in so many ways.

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