Direction and Support: It’s harder than you think!

Providing direction is more than just issuing directives, says Ann Phillips, a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies.

“Leaders often believe they are providing direction when they tell people to ‘Do this, and then do that, and be sure to get it done by this date,’ but that is only part of providing direction—and probably the lowest form of the behavior.”

The same is true when it comes to supportive behavior, says Phillips. “Managers feel as if they know what supportive behavior is and usually have their own ideas about what it looks like. But without instruction, most people default to behavior that consists mainly of encouragement.

“People are good at encouraging others with phrases such as, ‘You can do it. We’re glad you’re here. We believe in you. Use your best judgment.’ But they miss out on all of the other supportive behaviors that are just as important such as listening, sharing information, and facilitating self-directed problem solving.”

“So folks are good at telling people what to do and then cheerleading them on to accomplish the task. And that is the one-two, ‘I want you to do this, and I know you can handle it’ combination that most people are getting in terms of direction and support from their managers. On the surface this may seem reasonable, but it is a style that only works well for direct reports who are already accomplished at the task. For people who are new to a task or are running into problems or are unsure of themselves, it’s a style that actually hinders progress—and can be damaging to overall growth and development.”

As Phillips explains, “A delegating style works great if you’ve got someone who is a Self-Reliant Achiever on a task, but if the direct report is at any of the other stages of development—Enthusiastic Beginner, Disillusioned Learner, or Capable, but Cautious, Performer—you’re going to run into problems. Leaders have to provide the right levels of direction and support and it has to be more than ‘Here’s what I want you to do and I’m confident that you can handle it.’”

How to get started
For managers looking to increase their ability to offer direction and support for their people, Phillips has a couple of recommendations.
• Recognize your own default settings. A considerable 54% of managers use only one style when it comes to providing direction and support for their people—either Directing, Coaching, Supporting, or Delegating. Each of these styles is great if it is a match for what the direct report needs. Each is also a hindrance if it is the wrong style for the situation. What is your default style as a leader?
• Expand your repertoire of directive behaviors and your willingness and ability to use them. Become more skillful at goal setting and showing how. Learn about setting SMART goals—Specific and measurable, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable—and have current goals in place for each of your direct reports. Provide direction on how to do a task. It’s not micromanaging if a person is a beginner and doesn’t have experience.
• Expand your repertoire of supportive behaviors and your willingness and ability to use them. Improve your listening skills and share information to facilitate self-directed problem solving. Listen with the intent to learn, to be influenced, and to understand—not just respond. Share information. People recognize that information is power, yet many managers still try to maintain control by keeping information to themselves even though it undermines employee development.

Start today
The amount of direction and support people receive from their manager impacts the efficiency and quality of their work. Without it, people are left to their own devices, have to fake it until they make it, and learn primarily through trial and error.

Eventually people get there—but it comes with a cost, says Phillips.
“It’s one of the toughest types of issues to address because on the surface everyone’s putting on a brave face and pretending that everything is okay. But if you scratch a little underneath you’ll see the level of dissatisfaction that’s costing organizations billions of dollars in untapped productivity, creativity, and innovation.”

“Managers have the ability to bring out so much more from their people. Find out where your people are at with their tasks. What do they need from you in terms of direction and support? Improve your skills in both of these areas and see what a difference it makes.”

Source:, Ignite! Newsletter, July 2013 Article
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