Too Damn Helpful

I created a problem this week because I helped too much. A member of my team made a few casual comments. I took the ball and ran with it.

The people who should have taken action weren’t even at the table.

the moment you own someone's problem you stop helping.png

I should have asked:

  1. What’s happening?
  2. When?
  3. What issues need to be addressed? (If any.)
  4. How can I help? (The answer would have been nothing.)

Rather than asking the above questions, I made some quick decisions and sent a few emails.

I solved a problem that didn’t exist. I was just being helpful.

It’s not helpful to help too much.

7 ways leaders address issues and opportunities:

  1. Ask questions.
  2. Provide clarity and help with communication, when necessary.
  3. Allocate resources, when appropriate.
  4. Do things only you can do.
  5. Get out of the way. Let others do what they do best.
  6. Follow up.
    • What’s working?
    • What could be better?
    • What are you learning?
    • Who can help?
  7. Honor people’s contribution and celebrate progress.

What about real problems?

Don’t be too helpful with problems – don’t be aloof, either.

In 1974, William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass wrote a Harvard Business Review classic, “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” (Reprinted with comments by Stephen R. Covey.)

When someone walks in your office with a problem, they say they want help, but that’s not always true. What they often want is for you to take the problem – the monkey – off their back.

“Helpful” managers are too eager to own monkeys. You’re overworked and overwhelmed because you’re too damn helpful.

Over-helpful managers create helplessness in teams.

The moment you own someone’s problem, they no longer need help. They don’t have a problem. You do.

Real help is enabling, not disabling.

How might managers deal with the problem of owning other people’s problems?