Dear Dan: I Can’t Stop Helping People

Dear Dan,

I work late because I’m being helpful to people on my team. How can I stop helping too much?


Too Helpful

(Question after a recent presentation.)

Dear Too,

The desire to help is both useful and dangerous.

When you help too much you:

  1. Create dependency rather than empowerment by doing someone’s job for them.
  2. Neglect talent and creativity in others.
  3. Become indispensable. Successful leaders make themselves dispensable.
  4. Let people take advantage of your generosity.
  5. Avoid conflict.
  6. Need to be liked and refuse to set boundaries.
  7. Resent the people you serve.

Over-help is a trap:

Once you’re in the trap of over-helping, it feels like you can’t stop. You don’t dare to say no. It’s easier to help than to face their negative reaction when you don’t.

Redefine help:

Over-help is doing someone’s job for them. Helpful-help is:

  1. Removing obstacles.
  2. Helping people find their own solutions. (Coaching)
  3. Noticing a teammate’s strengths. “I’ve seen you be creative in other situations. What does your creative self suggest right now?”
  4. Suggesting connections. “Mary might have some ideas. Why don’t you touch base with her?”
  5. Asking, “Who might know?”
  6. Giving direction or information. Perhaps you need to point the way and release your team members.
  7. Staying connected. “Drop in and let me know how things are going.”
  8. Giving permission. Timid employees just need permission.
  9. Identifying the next step. Employees feel paralyzed by big problems or goals. They’re afraid of failure. Ask, “What’s the next small step?”
  10. Celebrating progress. “Keep going!”

New response:

Don’t rush to help.

Ask, “What have you tried?”, when someone comes for help. Let people know you expect them to do their job.

If they haven’t tried anything, ask what they might try.

Bonus: Read Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet.

What suggestions do you have for leaders who help too much?