Helping Employees Cope: Leadership for a Supportive and Cooperative Workplace

If you want to inspire your employees to help each other, demonstrate a sense of humility in your leadership style.

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Findings reveal crucial insights about humble leaders and their effect on employees

In today’s modern business era, employees face increasing expectations and responsibilities as they navigate a continuously changing workplace. Such an environment has made it crucial for managers to find ways to help employees meet these new demands and adjust to their additional roles and responsibilities.

Oftentimes, leaders reach for the usual methods they believe can help employees cope with and adjust to such demanding situations, such as ensuring adequate resources are available, providing emotional support, or having positive exchanges with employees.

While undoubtedly beneficial, it’s also important for leaders to foster a supportive, collaborative environment where employees are willing to assist one another by providing help and support when needed. Interested in understanding how leaders can nurture such an environment, we conducted a study published in Journal of Business Research where we focused on the leader behaviors that inspire employees to help one another at work.

We found that the other-oriented, relational behaviors typical of humble leaders serve as an archetype for employees to emulate by supporting their peers and facilitating an environment of cooperation. Here are a few takeaways.

The other-oriented, relational behaviors typical of humble leaders serve as an archetype for employees to emulate by supporting their peers and facilitating an environment of cooperation.

Be the manager your employees want to emulate

As a leader, you’re responsible for modeling the types of behavior you’re looking to instill in your employees. Research suggests employees look to those around them, especially their direct supervisors, for cues regarding appropriate, expected, and desired behavior. Although there are likely a number positive behaviors you would want to model to your employees, we found that one of the best ways leaders can get employees to contribute their efforts toward making a supportive and collaborative environment is to demonstrate a sense of humility in their leadership style.

By modeling such humble behaviors, leaders can foster an atmosphere where their employees want to emulate them by identifying their group members’ needs and supporting them when necessary.

Humility involves:

  • An accurate assessment of one’s own limitations
  • Openness to learn and grow
  • Genuine appreciation of the abilities, contributions, and character strengths of others

Our findings suggest that by modeling such humble behaviors, leaders can foster an atmosphere where their employees want to emulate them by identifying their group members’ needs and supporting them when necessary.

Be interested in your employees’ goals and values

One of the best ways you can model the type of behavior you’re looking for is to show your employees that yours and their interests align. According to research on social identity, recognizing that others share the same goals and values as we do serves as the basis for identity formation, an important process capable of motivating prosocial behavior. That is, when we believe another person’s interests align with our own, we are likely to identify with the individual and possibly modify our behavior in ways that help and benefit them.

As our research suggests, such identification processes have important implications for leaders looking to foster a supportive and cooperative environment. Specifically, we found that because humble leaders have a genuine interest in helping their employees grow and mature, they are likely to shape employees’ identification with their leader. In turn, employees gain more motivation to work toward achieving the goals and objectives of their leader, such as by helping and supporting their fellow group members.

Be willing to walk the talk as the manager

While acknowledging your own fallibility and highlighting the strengths and contributions of your employees can help foster an environment of support and cooperation, it’s also important to structure the work environment in ways that align with the behavior you are trying to model to others. For instance, in addition to how you engage with individual employees, it’s also important to be mindful of how you are interacting with your work group as a whole.

Our study found that although employees tend to identify with and emulate their humble leader by helping others in the environment, how these leaders interact with and distribute resources to others in the social environment also played a critical role.

Specifically, our results suggest that humble leaders who devote their time, attention, and resource-allocation toward those members who need help the most may be most effective at motivating their employees to devote themselves to helping others in need.

In other words, in addition to incorporating a sense of humility in your leadership style, you also want to structure the work environment in ways that reinforce your employees’ perceptions that you have a genuine interest in serving those employees who need the most help.

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