How to give Moral Support and turbo-charge your leadership

I don’t see people giving enough encouragement and approval at work right now. Here’s why and what to do about it.

I don’t see enough moral support being offered around these days. Either from leaders to their people, or just between colleagues.

I mean, easy things like giving someone an affirmation: “I know you can handle this,” or offering a willing ear to really listen to what might be bothering someone.

Is it a sign of the times maybe that these simple human acts of encouragement and approval have somehow slipped from the top of our leadership and managerial agenda?

Or maybe it’s because they’re not taught as part of our management education? Which is strange, because they’re in all the good leadership and management theories. Take a look at “Transformational Leadership” for example. This is still one of the most complete and research-backed leadership models we’ve got. Right there, under the Individualized Consideration component, it says:

“the degree to which the leader attends to each follower’s needs, acts as a mentor or coach to the follower and listens to the follower’s concerns and needs. The leader gives empathy and support, keeps communication open…”

Couldn’t be clearer to me!

I reckon that what’s actually going on, so that there really isn’t enough moral support being offered around, is that it can actually seem quite a hard thing to do. It isn’t hard to do at all. But it can seem hard…

Here are some of the barriers I’ve observed that get in the way of leaders and people in general offering more moral support to others. And what to do about them.

What does offering ‘moral support’ even mean?

This is an important barrier. If you haven’t seen moral support in action, or it isn’t something you’ve too much experience of receiving yourself, then the whole idea of ‘moral support’ can seem quite alien or difficult to define. But you can break that chain.

Here’s what I mean. Whenever you get a chance, tell people that you trust them, that you have faith in them: “I absolutely believe you can do this.” Tell them you approve of them: “The way you handle yourself at work is great.” Tell them you’re there for them: “I’m interested in what you have to say. If you ever want to just talk things over with anybody, I’d love to be that person.”

And if you don’t feel able to offer that kind of moral support, and you’re in any kind of leadership role, please, please keep reading…

I can’t truthfully say that to this person

Another big barrier, and often the first thing that leaders say back to me when I raise it as an issue. The person who needs moral support from you isn’t someone that you trust absolutely. You’re not really sure that they can do what’s being asked of them. You don’t really like the way they are. “And I’m not prepared to lie to them,” you’ll say.

For me, this is a practical and a creative issue.

On a practical level – has the opposite approach worked? Have you successfully managed to coax the best out of this person by NOT giving them any moral support? Has doing the opposite worked well for you – telling them that you don’t trust them, don’t approve of them, don’t have faith in their abilities?

I can see in some circumstances that the opposite approach might work, but if you want more, get creative:

Find what is true. Look hard enough to find what you can trust, what you can approve of. Be brave and trust yourself enough to take a risk, and tell them that even if they stumble at some point, you’re confident that they’ll get up and carry on; that you’ll be there if they need you. Stop complaining and raise your own game – when you take a small risk and try it, you’ll be great at it.

Who am I to offer moral support to others?

Us coaches literally love this one! It’s such a common barrier to the final step to being a great leader or manager. And almost everybody has their version of this. We tell ourselves that, because we ourselves have failed or have let ourselves down, that we can’t offer moral support to others in similar circumstances. People have said things to me like: “I’m no better than them! How can I tell them I trust them to do this, when I wouldn’t really trust myself?”

We need to take a baby-steps approach to this barrier.

First, it’s not about you, it’s about the other person. What do they need to hear from you, about them? Yes, it really helps if you are the kind of person who does believe in yourself and does act with integrity. And, people don’t really need to hear what you think about yourself, they want to hear what you feel about them.

Second, do the work yourself. Do the work. Take small steps to become the kind of leader who does what they said they would. Work on your confidence by admitting to your secret doubts and then learning to co-exist with them. Over time, learn to trust yourself completely.

I know you can do this.

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