The Dangers of Helping: Are you too Helpful
The goal of helping is enabling, not more helping.
Over-helpful leaders are over-worked and under-appreciated. Help in ways that strengthen competency and don’t create dependency.
Train people to help each other, BEFORE they come to you for help.
You’re too helpful:
- If people constantly beat a path to your door, you help too much. It might feel good to be needed, but maybe you’re just needy.
- If people constantly need your approval before they take initiative, you’ve helped too much in the past.
- If “your way” is always the “best way”, you help too much. Brains shut down when everything must be done your way.
3 ways to help like a leader:
#1. When someone asks for help, ask, “What have you tried?” Never help a competent person who hasn’t tried something already, unless you want to validate lazy helplessness.
#2. When someone asks for suggestions, ask, “What options have you developed?”
#3. When someone asks, “What do you think?”, ask them what they think.
Novice vs. expert:
- Protect novices from harm.
- Novices don’t see the impact of their actions on others. “Your action here is impacting another team over there.”
- Novices respect you when you help. Experts resent intervention.
The difference between a novice and an expert is experts know how to find answers. Novices flounder.
- Threats are novel.
- Staff feels confused. Successful leaders help when they create clarity. Clarity enables action. Tiptoeing around confusion blocks performance.
- You see the big picture, but they’re lost in the weeds.
The one reason:
Useful help takes people to the place where they don’t need your help. Any other reason is a dead end.
- Doing things “for” someone doesn’t help.
- Doing things “with” someone helps as long as they grow.
- Letting them struggle helps as long as they’re making adequate progress.
How do you determine when it’s time to help?
Do you tend to help too much or too little?
The Manager Who Helped too Much (LF)
7 Simple Habits for Becoming a More Helpful Person (Inc)
Great reminder on how to be an empowering leader.
Thanks Jen. Have a great week.
I love this because it validates how I lead. I have always believed two things: 1. my job is develop people who can take my job; 2. over helping is actually a disguise for micromanagement and it is a sign of insecurity. If you hired someone, the hope is you believed they can do the job. I typically sit with new staff members and tell them what my leadership style is. I tell them I trust them to do a good job and give them permission to ask for help if they are feeling like they are missing the mark. I emphasize that when they do come to me I will likely ask ALOT of questions and that my questions are designed to develop conversation and thought that will lead to a great outcome. I point people in the right direction because I am a resource referral source. I encourage and tell them that they are doing a good job and that they are on the right path. If they are veering off the path, I try to bring them back respectfully. I rarely tell someone that their idea won’t work, and I provide them with the support they need to at least try it out.
Thanks Harriet. Leaders manage interactions. I see you defining and negotiating interactions. Leaders would be served well by doing this.
Let me know how you are going to interact with me, before we have to interact.
Empower, enlighten and emancipate don’t encourage lap dog behavior☺️
Thanks Ruvimbo. Love alliteration. 🙂
Not to get political or even to seem like I am taking a stance either way, but the being over-helpful scenario you explain reminds me of the conservative political view against welfare. Very few are completely against welfare, the divide comes over the specifics of qualification for and duration of those benefits. Logically, it makes sense that individuals could become dependent on such benefits if there are no other programs or incentives to raise the recipient out of poverty. Likewise, in management we do not need to take an axe to the idea of being helpful, but we need to remember that if we are going to provide help, we need to also provide the resources and encouragement for those we’ve helped to eventually help themselves. “Teach a man to fish,” right? In addition, the motivations you listed are spot on. Your “3 ways to help like a leader” is s smart way to get the hamster wheel going for your people. Our subordinates were hired because of something we, or our constituents, saw in them, right? We can’t allow complacency and dependence to fester. We must constantly challenge them, and not in the form of some epic task just to prove a point, but rather through small conversational cues like those you’ve listed.
I had a mentee who kept calling me early on in their career for help. Since they were new, I helped, not knowing they were also asking others for similar assistance. When I slowly moved from helping to asking them what they had tried, they balked. It was a slap in the face to them that I was questioning their effort. But I had to give up being helpful so that they could in turn help themselves. After this post, I can see the error in my ways. Instead of helping, I should have been training them to find the most reasonable response to their situation without my assistance. Or at the very least, reaching out to a lateral coworker.
With this same person, I will help them only after they give me some feedback on what they have tried or ask that they propose a solution when they call me. I can see the pitfalls in helping too much, as it creates a system that isn’t a long term solution for them or the organization. This topic will be an item discussed during our leadership calls.