If you have good interpersonal competencies and have a network of supportive relationships, then you are better positioned to draw on the same people as support systems.
As Charles found out in his life’s journey, just because you have what is classified as a ‘blue’ personality does not mean that you should confine yourself only to ‘blue’ people. A well-developed support system, Charles adds, includes a variety of individual types of people and is not limited to people who are, say, good at listening or giving advice.
At any given time, your support system should be a person who is any one of the following: a resource pool; a person who can be drawn on selectively; a supportive individual; and one who is moving in a direction of your choice and who, after it all, leaves you a stronger person.
The Resource Pool
This category in your support system is not limited to people alone. It can also include things, environments and beliefs which leave you a better person each time. The primary emphasis of the resource pool is, however, people and relationships. By default, this means that your resource pool has to be people- and relationship-oriented. Says Charles of the resource pool: “Be proactive in reaching out to locate and identify people, since it is unlikely that the appropriate people will come to you.”
For your part, as the one who is seeking a resource pool, some skills at scanning the world around you and keeping an open mind about the possibility that any given person may be a relevant resource, are required. This person may be an individual or part of a larger group. If he or she happens to be part of a group, then it would be wise to consider the size of the support system’s grouping.
In general, larger groups as support systems are more complicated and require a lot of energy to sustain, while very small systems may not have the range of resources you need. Composition, or the variety of people, thus becomes an important criterion in building an effective system. Are you aware of those individuals who could potentially be a part of your support system?
Drawing on People Selectively
Drawing on people selectively requires skills in choosing appropriate people and in keeping those individuals who are not particularly helpful from getting in the way. This is a ‘tough cookie’! It involves taking the risk of asking for support, and then being rejected or let down. It may also occasionally require dealing with jealousy and competition among those people in your circle who would like to be asked for assistance and feel left out when you call on someone else.
Keep in mind that it is crucial for you to be able to identify willing and available individuals. It is often difficult for many people to ask for support. Doing this may give rise to feelings of guilt or lead you to think you are ‘imposing’ on the other person. It may seem like an expression of weakness or an admission of failure; and it may seem contrary to your values or beliefs, but swallow your pride. Do the right thing and ask for help so as to further your goals. You will not become dependent on another person, but will be relying on an individual who is open to helping you.
Moving in a Direction of Your Choice
Distinguish your goals and directions from those of other people and other organisations. Only in this way can you move towards your desired destination.
Once you have done this, you can move towards achieving clarity so that you are in a position to make a declaration as to your direction that can be understood by others. This means making a commitment, even if it is only for a short time or is somewhat tentative, Charles notes. Your alarm bells should start ringing if the people around you do not identify with your goals or clearly see what you want. They simply are not, cannot, and will never be your support system!
A Support System Leaves You Stronger
Ideally, a good support system will leave you stronger; it confronts you with your own uncertainties about growth and will often generate new demands as others perceive your strength. Regardless of who constitutes your support system, those in it should confront you by letting others outside your support system know you are able to do certain things without these ‘outsiders’, which could mean the end of some relationships.
If, at this point, you are still trying to figure out who is what, or who does what in your life, then it may be high time for you to think again about the people in your life or totally re-examine the relationships you have with each person. But, then, if no one at all is any of this, here are a few pointers on who can be your support system.
A role model. This is a person who can help define goals for positions you might occupy in the future. Role models not only show you what is possible, but they are also a source of valuable information about the opportunities and problems associated with a given role.
Someone with whom you share common interests. People who share common interests or concerns can be especially important in keeping you motivated, and in sorting out those problems that are primarily unique to people with the same characteristics or personalities. These may be issues imposed by the larger system that require collective activity in order to bring about change in that system.
A close friend. This is someone who nurtures and cares for you. They enjoy some of the same interests as you do and keep you from becoming isolated and alienated.
Your helpers. These are people who can be depended upon in a crisis to provide assistance. They are often experts in solving particular kinds of problems, but may not be the type with whom one would choose to have a close personal relationship.
Someone who respects competence. This is a person who respects the skills you have already developed and who values the contributions that you make in a given situation. Such a person is particularly helpful during times of transition when you may be feeling unsure of yourself with regard to developing new skills.
A referral agent. You need people who can connect you with resources in the environment through their knowledge of people and organisations. Such people can refer you to the places where you can obtain assistance – call them ‘networked individuals’ or mentors if you will.
Challengers. People who can help motivate you to explore new ways of doing things, to develop new skills, and to work toward the development of latent capabilities are a must-have. They are often people who you may not care to have as personal friends, but who are nevertheless demanding of you!
So, if, up to this point, you are unable to place anyone in any of the above categories, then you had better start running, as the time for crawling, then walking, is no more. You simply do not have a support system and, in order to achieve your dreams, you need a support system!
Who is Your Support System?
Ask anyone about support systems that are available for women and thoughts of legal and technical mechanisms that the government has in place immediately come to mind. Very few people, however, will stop and see the person next to them as their support system. But, with the right resources and proper nurturing, your friend, colleague or jogging partner can be the support system that will help you achieve more than any legal mechanism ever will!
Charles Seashore, author of What Did You Say?: The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback, says that, even before looking to the next person for support, you should be your own support system or at least try to develop interpersonal characteristics that will make you more amenable to others who come to you for help. You may already be asking yourself: How can this be possible, because I only have, and can only do, so much for myself? So, how do I make myself agreeable at all in order that I might be a support system for the next person?
by Andrew Ngozo