May 2016: How not to help

Some of us just like to help. Whether the other person wants it or not. This tendency to ‘help’ is most prevalent in people who have grown up in a discipline, knowing how it all works, and then find themselves in leadership. In this position they are expected to extract their fingers from the various pies in which they used to belong.

And it’s not just leaders who interfere. One way and another, we are all at it. Peers give unsought advice to peers when one sees the other apparently ‘struggling’. Managers at all levels do deep dives into their reports’ projects when they see something going ‘wrong’. Experts do it to people who they don’t see as expert as themselves.

So how can we reduce the number of times that we can be charged with ‘getting in the way’ As usual, just knowing about it helps. Here are three types of ‘help’ to avoid giving.

The Deep Dive

There you are, minding your own business and you hear of an issue, not for the first time mind, down on the floor where they actually make stuff. And since it’s been rumbling on for months and you’re fed up with hearing about it and are a bit bored with what you’re doing you put on your swimming things and dive in.Deep.

Before anyone knows what’s going on you are filling out POs for new equipment, you are up a ladder fitting it and you are then annoyingly informing the person “who should have done it long ago” that you have just saved them from certain death.

My Advice

You are deeply involved in a budgeting exercise when a knock at the door brings you back to full consciousness. A report has come to talk over some ideas that she has for a restructure. She is senior and experienced and really only needs your nod to get going on the whole thing. But you decide that she needs to be warned of certain pitfalls that she can’t possibly have thought of by herself. Forty-five minutes later she leaves your office feeling much less well disposed towards you than before and not at all grateful for all your nuggets which frankly don’t even apply to her area.

100% Fever

Isn’t it funny how getting it 100% right becomes so terribly important when we don’t have control over the task that some poor wretch is having to perform under our gaze. For example, my wife Clare delights in reminding me (often) that there is more than one way to cut a mushroom (clearly, she has no idea what she is talking about). But strangely, and quite against the accepted science on the matter, a Milanese risotto does indeed taste almost the same when the mushrooms are cut up FAR TOO SMALL.

And so it is for the million other things that must be done around an organisation, not by us. We must manage people to do their job and not manage their tasks. We will be loved for ever as leaders if we can simply listen and discuss others’ idea without giving advice. The hospitals will empty of ulcer patients if leaders can accept that ‘70% my way’ is a bloody marvellous.

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