A To-Don’t NOT a To-Do

tie shoes

Even four year olds know that being helped isn’t always helpful. Over eager parents, who step in to “help,” often hear frustrated children say, “I’ll do it myself!”

Never help those who can help themselves.

You got up this morning thinking about things to-do. But, leaders think about things to-don’t. Helpfulness lifted you to leadership but the need to help hampers once you’re there.

The need to help may reflect an unhealthy need to be helpful.

Leaders who need to help are short-sighted unhelpful hindrances who need to feel important.

Step out; don’t step in.

Helping isn’t helpful when it weakens, creates dependencies, or takes responsibility from others.

Delay helping when:

  1. Ownership is high. Stepping in undermines ownership.
  2. Teams are motivated.
  3. Delay shows respect. “I trust you.”
  4. Acceptable progress is being achieved.
  5. Long-term benefits outweigh short-term results.
  6. You questions methods and processes, not outcomes.
  7. Struggle strengthens.
  8. Teams trust you. They know you have their best interests in mind.
  9. Failure humbles.
  10. Defeat creates learning moments.

Bonus: Stop helping if helping didn’t help last time.

The goal of helping is enabling, not more helping.

Real help takes people to places where they don’t need help. Sometimes, not helping is helpful.

Help when:

  1. Teams need an extra hand because conditions changed.
  2. Relationships break down. Help the process.
  3. Confusion persists. The great role of leaders is creating clarity.
  4. Help “with” not “for.”
  5. Helping develops skills.


Monitor frustrations. Acceptable levels of frustration intensify focus and motivate change. Don’t help.

Too much frustration generates relational conflict and paralyzes progress. Step in.


Stay near; don’t isolate. Not helping isn’t an excuse to stay distant.

Back to the four year old. They’ll ask for help after they’ve tried, failed, and become frustrated. They respect you when you help after they’ve struggled. But, help before they struggle and they despise and reject you.

When is help, unhelpful?

How do you determine when to step in?