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Support from leaders who listen

30 Oct 2019 | Shirley Wardell Shirley Wardell, programme director for Research Team Leadership, explains how research leaders can offer true support through better listening.

When you listen to people, they feel supported. This is what participants on the Research Team Leadership programme tell us. Support is something that stops things from collapsing or crumbling. Support is a critical function of a leader, and I'm sure leaders in institutions are hoping to do more than stop people from collapsing when they offer support. I imagine they are hoping to help people reach their full potential, to do the hard stuff and to work well with others.

On Research Team Leadership we use John Adair’s Functional Leadership as a practical framework that helps leaders be clear about ‘what’ they need to do. The Functional Leadership model outlines 11 functions a team leader needs to perform over the three areas of the task, the team and the individual. Support is one of the functions described in this model. A leader needs to provide support for the task, support to the team and to the individual. John Adair’s framework establishes ‘what’ to do and then we turn to Nancy Kline’s framework getting the participants to think about ‘how’ to do it.

We ask the research leaders how they might support their teams. We ask them to think deeply about how they can achieve the goal of supporting their teams by arranging for them to listen to each other profoundly. Nancy Kline’s suggestion, “If in doubt, ask”, seems like a good maxim when deciding how to support anyone. We can take a few educated guesses what they might need, but when we ask and listen profoundly the nuances of needs appear.

Here is a glimpse of what research team leaders tell us are good ways to support their teams:

1. Take time to listen to the research team and to make sure this happens
2. Be aware of the needs of individual researchers
3. Create a supportive atmosphere
4. Be responsive
5. Support them to support themselves
6. Facilitate team activity
7. Resolve conflicts

In Research Team Leadership, programme director David Faraday and I will expand upon how listening can be learned as a skill to develop thinking, collaboration and to support research leaders.

Individual research team leaders are encouraged to attend this two-day programme and add their thoughts to the wealth of data David and I have gathered and analysed over the years and benefit from the results of the talented research team leaders who have previously attended the programme.

Find out more about Research Team Leadership.

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