Many of us gain a great deal of satisfaction from supporting or assisting others – as a manager, this might be helping with an idea, task or jumping in to help your team reach a deadline.
We have all heard from managers who claim to be inundated with requests for help from their team. It’s an often-quoted truism that “leading by example” is good practice; but it is also true that many would like to get more out of the time, relationships and human resources they have invested in.
Offering help and advice is often a quick fix and may cause busy leaders to respond moment by moment or worse from crisis to crisis – without accessing or encouraging the potential available within their teams.
Intellectually, we can see this happening, so why isn’t more effort being put into understanding how our good intentions can be disempowering, and can often delay productivity and growth?
The dilemma for the modern leader is that choosing to be helpful can not only make life easier (if only for an instant), it feels good, and can seem like the right thing to do, while in reality it often leaves the helpful leader harried and reactive.
Here are my top tips for how you can reconsider “helpful” for better outcomes…
RETHINK YOUR PURPOSE AND MAKE AN IMPACT
Helping others may be innate. When our parents or teachers taught us the rules of polite behaviour as children, we learnt the reward of a sense of goodwill and the satisfaction that comes with it.
Assisting someone else and being a positive influence creates a feeling of increased purpose. But potentially there is damage in offering an easy outcome or a quick fix by answering questions directly. You may be pushing the challenge and opportunity for learning further away.
Is your purpose to be obliging and helpful in order to reach deadlines? Or is it providing a process for finding the best possible solution by working together, leveraging ideas to a higher-level, thinking and doing?
Enjoying what you do is important. Developing and creating with others is better.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH DISCOMFORT
Successful leaders have learned to move away from believing that their positive influence lies within the comfort zone of their own technical knowledge.
If you solve problems by providing the answers directly, you may not be listening to what your people are really asking – this often leads to you pushing the underlying issue even further away.
Being a positive influencer is having the courage to delve and probe, to encourage your colleagues to think and act independently with logic and rigour.
Deciding not to voluntarily offer advice or help may feel uncomfortable or lacking in generosity but it will send a message that you are confident that your colleagues have a view and that you value it. It will also make your colleagues or team think more deeply and clarify their rationale.
It is human nature for you to want to take the easy route, or for your colleagues to seek comfort and avoid vulnerability by asking for help – equally by opening them up to a new world in vulnerability you may just give them the confidence they need.
MANAGE LESS AND LEAD MORE
What I mean by this is – stop trying to do so much.
Sympathetic managers are naively over-managing and under-leading. Successful leaders know that moving on from being the subject matter expert is needed for growth.
Peter F Drucker – who was considered by McKinsey as the “management guru to whom other gurus kowtow”, was a big believer in leaders doing less.
“Management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things.”
This may mean disrupting the status quo, and that’s okay. Applying less of what you know provides an opportunity and space for others to discover for themselves.
Management is typically filled with noisy content, and discipline is needed to look behind the content and apply emotional intelligence to draw on the diversity each person brings. Leaders lead the discovery.
Some reflection questions for the over-managing manager are…
- What have I done today to enable my team to get clear on what they want, and to create outcomes for themselves?
- How have I connected learning and personal growth with my team to the broader goals of the organization, and to the needs of customers?
- What have I done today to motivate my team, so they continue to stay focused on the overall strategy, even when it seems out of reach?
FROM HELPFUL MANAGER TO USEFUL COACH
A lot of managers recognise the benefit of coaching and I wonder if this is a misunderstood concept? Many raise a sceptical eyebrow at the thought of the ‘touchy-feely’ nature of coaching, but many managers would love to have more impact, have a more engaged team and work a little less hard than they currently do.
Coaching – put simply, is helping someone else improve their own performance by helping them to learn – while also developing the individual and the organisation they’re working in. But (and isn’t there always a but) it not only takes discipline and practice, it also takes what many managers find so hard to give: trust.
Coaching requires a leader to be prepared to yield the rank that they’ve acquired in the hierarchy through their superior subject matter expertise, and trust that developing others poses no threat to them.
In our experience at AltoPEOPLE, a powerful starting point for leaders who aspire to be coaches, is to leverage the insights that the DiSC methodology provides, to learn what kind of approach will work best for the people in their team.
Resisting the urge to be helpful – doing stuff for people on request or being the on-call font of wisdom and sound judgement – is the first step in being truly useful. Developing others this way will provide leaders with more time, more trust, more effectiveness and a whole lot more leadership mojo.
It is important that I acknowledge that great managers are excellent guardians of resources. However, if you are falling victim to the unhelpful high, pay attention to your leadership philosophies, if it’s “lead by example” ask yourself what IS the example? This will allow you to listen to the signs and look for the patterns.
Mistaking busy for successful will take you further away from building a team. Perhaps it is more useful to have a philosophy that is “there is a better version of me around every corner”, the question is, are you taking the corner or comfortably treading the same path?