Holding Space For Students: How It Helps Them Grow

Have you ever thought about ‘Holding’? Holding refers to support. The 20th-century psychoanalyst Winnicott used this word to explain the importance of a supportive environment provided to a person to help him achieve his/her full potential.

It is likened to the nurturing and caring behavior a mother engages in with her child to help him/her become independent. It has become an important concept in education where the role of the educator is to provide a safe environment where students can discover themselves without being judged and learn new skills that help them follow their calling in life.

What is Holding  

To practice Holding requires attention at multifaceted dimensions. It is the art of being present with others. It is an attitude that comes from deep-rooted compassion for others. It requires cultivating the skill of active listening to understand what the other person is feeling, i.e. listening from the heart. It is about practicing unconditional positive regard which means treating another person with the utmost respect and completely be with the person to whom you are Holding space with.


In the life of a student, joining college after school is a period of major transition, especially if it requires moving to a new city.  It is a time to cope with uncertainties which at times lead to loneliness as he/she is trying to fit into a new environment among strangers. At that time the environment that conveys trust and support becomes crucial for the overall growth of the students.

Holding Space for Students at IILM

At IILM, as a team we try to provide that safe space to the students where they can discover their interests and enhance their skills.

I still remember that day when I interacted for the first time with a student who came from a large family in a small town to join IILM to pursue his graduation. During that conversation that usually happy looking boy shared that he felt lonely and homesick.  That comment by him was enough to understand that we need to offer him support to make him feel at home on the campus.  After a series of one-on-one sessions to help him feel cared for and heard he realized his goal and the reason for pursuing graduation.

To help him follow his interests and exhibit his strengths, we encouraged him to be a part of various in-house club activities. Soon he became the part of a team to organize major events on campus which helped him make friends who were always there to support and motivate him. The supportive environment on campus gave him the sense of belongingness which he was missing initially. As a result, he became more punctual for classes and was always one of the first students to take initiative. This resulted in enhanced class participation and higher grades. This change in him was possible because of the Holding environment which was provided to him by IILM, filled with care but at the same time non-intrusive where we responded to all his concerns.

Benefits of Holding

Holding provides a safe environment for students to understand and manage their inner and outer worlds. It helps them develop a strong personality with a clear understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses.

During my work at IILM, I discovered that ‘Holding’ is a key element in a student’s overall growth and well-being. Practicing holding requires that one is grounded and has a clear purpose at work. It requires that we treat others with our hearts.  At IILM, these are the important values being practiced by all faculty members to help students to adjust well when they become part of the IILM family. A good Holding not only helps students to feel comfortable and confident but also helps them shape themselves and IILM prides itself in providing such a conducive and caring atmosphere for its students.

How Leadership Works: And What Motivates People to Follow.

This is one question that every leader thinks, that is how to persuade others to do what you want them to do in the most effective manner. To come to the definite answer to this question, there is a need to start reflecting on what motivates you  to follow or listen to someone. The moment you start reflecting on this basic question, you will immediately start pondering upon what makes you passionate about things in life for which you are ready to expand your comfort zone.  In majority of the cases, it’s all about making an impact  in the lives of others with your work.

Purposive Leadership

The purpose in leadership is all about who you are and what makes you distinct, it’s all about your own unique brand. It is not so much about what you do or your educational qualifications but how you do your job.

It is your ability to articulate purpose behind your work that makes you distinct.  Your ability to help your team members connect with the larger purpose behind your work i.e. making a difference in the lives of others, helps you to connect with your team and motivates them to go to any level to make a remarkable contribution at work.

David Ulrich , Professor of Business Studies at The University of Michigan, who is an expert in the field of human resource and leadership and has authored more than 30 books, shared that leaders in the organisation who enable their employees to find meaning and purpose from their work  create a work culture in which employees are more enthusiastic and generate more value for their customers and investors.

Suresh Narayanan, MD of Nestle India, is one such leader who inculcates a sense of strong purpose amongst his team members and successfully brought the company out from the Maggie crisis and is now steering Nestle successfully during the Covid-19 crises with no retrenchment amongst his existing work force. He shared that it is important to have clarity of one’s purpose in life and it is not about becoming a corporate CEO or an entrepreneur or making a million dollars, but it is all about understanding what you want to be known for, and this makes the whole difference.

How to Lead With Purpose

The first step is to identify your purpose, which needs to be real and authentic. The second important step is to articulate that purpose amongst all your stake holders clearly and persistently. The third important step is to realise that when we use our strengths at work, then we reach in the state of flow, where we become so engrossed at work that time just flows by – and the same is true for our team members. So, help your team members identify their strengths and use it at work. Lastly, create a positive work environment by encouraging a positive work relationship and by giving positive feedback to your team members. Remember, you can help your team members grow by focusing on their strengths. It is only an uplifting and supportive work environment that can help your team members connect to the deeper meaning of their work.

This is what Yuon Chouinard, CEO of Patagonia, an American outdoor clothing company, has done. He clearly aligned his purpose i.e. “cause no unnecessary harm and use business to inspire and implement solutions to environmental crisis” in all his processes, be it product-lines, supply-chain or the pricing of its products. This motivated the company to switch to organic cotton in their clothing lines. The result is that today Patagonia is thriving due to its  focus on overall purpose behind their business and not just the profits.

Purpose Assures Safety in The Times of Crisis.

Leaders who lead with purpose can easily bring their organisations out from crisis. American energy company, DTE Energy, could overcome the 2008 financial crisis by inculcating training programmes for employees that spoke about purpose behind their work. They conducted town hall meetings and conducted culture-binding activities that increased employee engagement to a new level. DTE won a Gallop Great Work Place Reward five years in a row, their financial performance skyrocketed, with the company’s stock price tripling from year end 2008 to year end 2017. Hence, the most important factor that makes an organisation grow amid challenges and crisis is its leadership, with strong purpose which is beyond one’s immediate interests.


Finally, it is important for a leader to help his team members not only to envision the outcome of their daily routines, but also to find meaning in those tasks. So, for me, I not only give lectures but as I teach, I also contribute in preparing Next Generation Business Leaders.

Purposeful leadership is all about creating value and leading a contributive life. It is about being genuine and helping others to develop and display their highest potential. Finally, leaders must create their own brand and think what they want it to be remembered as.