Where Do You Look to Find Real Support?

Image: © Sebastian Barrios Slight. 

Who is it you can really rely on to give honest feedback about your actions in the workplace and who can you trust to support you when you are trying to change behaviours or habits?

I was motivated to write this post by several coaching and leadership discussions over the past year and a recent conversation with a friend.  One of the coaching discussions was along the following lines (my thanks to my coachee who agreed to me using this dialogue while not identifying them):


“Jeremy, I was driving back to Canberra from Melbourne on the weekend and I kept thinking about the fact that for the last year I have been unhappy in the workplace.  During all of that time I have been blaming senior managers for the way things are.  Their demands, their changing priorities, lack of clear direction, not making enough time for me to talk through issues, the fact that at times they deal with members of my team direct, without involving me! 

“Every time I talk to my friends about what I am experiencing and when I have taken a couple of my staff into confidence they all agree with me that things should operate better. They all agree senior management is at fault, that I am badly treated and generally not respected by management.  Friends have told me I should find another job because they can see how unhappy I have been!

“After our first two coaching sessions together I now realise that a lot of what has been happening has been attributable to my behaviours and how I have chosen to respond.  I realise I could have influenced how things are. 

“Why haven’t my friends and team members said something to me?  They have constantly agreed with me and told me I was in the right!”

As I say, the tenor of this dialogue has been replicated several times in the past year.  Why didn’t the friends and work colleagues challenge my coachee?  Perhaps for friends it was easiest just to go with the flow, perhaps they simply assumed my coachee had done everything right, perhaps they felt my coachee just needed sympathy?  Perhaps for the team members they felt at risk in expressing a different perspective to their immediate team leader, or perhaps it suited some agenda of theirs to also be critical of senior management?

My discussion with my friend just before Christmas went to the issue of whether a friend is one who always lends an ear and commiserates unquestioningly, or whether a true friend is one who is willing and able to provide constructive questioning and observation.

So, if we are working to progress our careers, work through difficult situations in the workplace, or change our behaviours who do you look to for considered support you can rely on and trust?

A recent post by Dr Marla Gottschalk in The Office Blend titled “The Fab 5 of Your Work Life” suggests that it is important to your career to surround yourself with people who can “serve as a  “catalyst”, encouraging both exploration and excellence”.  She suggests we need a Fab 5 of supporters.  For her the Fab 5 are:

–  a Mentor;

–  a Sponsor;

–  a Collaborator;

–  a Devil’s Advocate; and

–  an Entrepreneur.

I will leave you to review Dr Gottschalk’s definition of these at the attached link.  In essence they go to the need to surround yourself with people who will be champions for you, people who you can trust with confidence, people you have your best interests at heart, people who are prepared to challenge you.

I am not wedded to the Fab 5 listed above but I share them to provoke thinking as to who you might need to support you in your situation.

When I am working with people in the career development context I certainly encourage people to try and find a mentor.  I also encourage them to build a network of people they can  trust to keep their interests at heart, with whom they can share ideas in confidence and draw on for alternative perspective and ideas.

When we are trying to change behaviours or habits I believe a mentor is still of value, as is a trusted network, but more importantly you need to identify those who will support you on the change path.  In the book “change anything – the new science of personal success” the authors talk of the need to identify who is a friend and who is an accomplice.  They speak of friends as being those who “help keep us on the path to success by modelling good choices, speaking up, holding us accountable, offering advice, cheering us on” 1.  Friends are not necessarily the people we currently call friends.  Friends are the ones who, among other things, meet the criteria set out in “change anything”.   For my part I often advocate the need for people, trying to make change, to identify ‘accountability partners’ or ‘accountability buddies’.  Accountability partners or buddies are people with whom you can have a frank discussion about what you are trying to achieve and who are willing to give you a nudge in the ribs and let you know when you are deviating from your desired path.  Accountability partners or buddies can be supervisors, peers or subordinates.

The “change anything” team also advocate the importance of coaches in helping achieve change2 .

In conclusion, in trying to determine your career path, when dealing with difficult challenges in the workplace and when trying to achieve personal change its important to think carefully about where you look to find real support.  Think about who your Fab 5 should be for the year ahead. People who will champion you, challenge you and cheer you (and the latter only when it is deserved).

Image: © Sebastian Barrios Slight.  (The copyright image accompanying this post has been reproduced here with the kind permission of Sebastian Barrios Slight, a talented Chilean photographer, friend and fellow-hiker.  With thanks.)


1. Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. ‘change anything – the new science of personal success’  [Piatkus 2011]. P90.

2. ‘change anything – the new science of personal success’. P90/91.

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