Your Most Important Role as a Supervisor…or Friend, Family Member

Your Most Important Role as a Supervisor…or Friend, Family Member

I remember many years ago when my husband and I were thinking about buying a franchise with another couple. We created an action plan and we worked the plan: researching the various franchisers and what they could offer us, talking to banks about borrowing money, counting the traffic in a variety of malls, and so on. None of the four of us had ever been a business owner. We had all worked in retail but that was many moons ago. As we made progress with our plan, we started to tell more and more friends and family members what we were considering. No one, not one of them said: “Are you out of your mind? What are you thinking?” At the time I wondered why they were “treating” us this way. I wondered who would or what would stop us if this wasn’t a good idea. Did they not care about us enough to rock the boat? Were they so impressed with our success in other areas of our lives that they figured we must know what we were doing? Was this a good idea? Was it something they wished they were doing?

Recently a colleague introduced me to the Support and Challenge Matrix. This is exactly what I needed all those years ago when we were moving towards buying the franchise – which, by the way, turned out to be a very expensive education! We needed someone to support our new adventure by challenging us on it! Instead we received no support and no challenge. This matrix has been very helpful for reflecting on how I treat people. I want to be a good friend (and consultant) by providing the appropriate level of support and the appropriate level of challenge.

The Support and Challenge Model was originally utilized by Virgin Media to help managers understand this aspect of their relationship with their employees. It uses two axis – support on the vertical axis and challenge on the horizontal axis thereby creating the classic 4-box model with low support/low challenge, low support/high challenge, high support/ low challenge and high support/high challenge.

Like many matrices, there is no one quadrant or mode that can be used in every situation. And though I have never seen research on this, I suspect that each of us has an over-used mode and a least-used one.

No matter what your current roles are – in your work and in your life – I suspect that, like me, you are often in a position of offering advice and encouragement to another person, whether it be a co-worker, someone you are supervising, a friend or family member.

The four quadrants or modes are:

  1. Low challenge/low support: this is the one that is appropriate when you are convinced that your employee/friend is more than capable and they know what they are doing. If you are not their supervisor or their best friend it can be that you just cannot be bothered to tell the person the truth, as you see it. “That’s nice.” – can be a common phrase when someone tells you about their plan/idea/situation. This can be about minding your own business, not rocking the other person’s boat. The downside of this mode is that if it is over-used it can lead to apathy.
  1. Low support/high challenge: this is the one when you have an employee/friend who is very experienced and you think they can take on more responsibility. Perhaps they are stuck or coasting in some aspect of their life or work and they need a bit of a push to get them to reach their potential, or to stop them from whining. The challenge is a push – and then they are off and running. You rock their boat hard and then get out of their way. You may check in with the occasionally. The downside of this mode is that if it is over-used it can lead to frustration.
  1. High support/ low challenge: this is the one when you have an employee or friend who is young – in their work, their life or in their role. They are unsure of their talents and abilities and they need some nurturing to gain their confidence in this new role. Of course, “smothering” comes to mind when I think of this one. It’s more like being there all of the time for the person, holding the boat steady, rather than rocking it. It may be difficult for some to know when to switch from this mode to another, more suitable one, as the person grows. The downside of this mode is that if it is over-used it can lead to comfort.
  1. High support/high challenge: this is the one where both you and the other person are committed and working hard to achieve a goal. Not only are you challenging them to higher goals, you also providing the required support, coaching and/or mentoring to get them there. You present the challenge and then if necessary, hold their feet to the fire. You cheer them on, offer advice and suggestions and pick them up and dust them off when they stumble all with the hopes that one day soon, you’ll be able to get out of their way. The downside of this mode is that if it is over-used it can lead to frustration.

The beauty of this model is that your response or mode is always changing – you do not have to use the same quadrant/mode, with the same people, in each situation. I encourage you to create a list of five people in your life, determine which mode you’ve been using for each of them most recently, determine if the current mode is working for both of you or if you need to change the mode on a go forward basis. Reflect on what you learned about yourself. It may be helpful to determine your most preferred and least-used mode.

As a friend or family member, you may want to have a discussion about what level of support and/or challenge the other person wants from you when the situation arises. For example:  A friend comes to you and talks about a desire to make some changes within their marriage. Quite often we listen, offer advice or suggestions and then, maybe, in a week or two, inquire how it’s going. This matrix might give more structure to that original conversation and permit you to actually make a difference in the other person’s life.

As a supervisor, I believe you have a responsibility for your employee’s growth and development. Therefore it stands to reason that you would actively look for opportunities to support and challenge each and every one of them. Again, introducing the matrix to your employees will give more structure to conversations and permit you to have a more meaningful contribution towards what they need for success.

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