Yesterday, in my post leaders don’t make it comfortable I confessed to being a fixer. I used to spend a lot of time fixing, as I thought it was good leaders do.
As I was writing yesterday’s post, it struck me that my message might be suggesting that leaders should never respond to a request for help. That was not my intent at all. It is totally appropriate and at times necessary.
Responding to a request for help
When you get a request to help what is your first thought? I’ve seen plenty of well-intentioned leaders jump immediately to action. Their actions can be anything from doing something to evaluating the situation and giving advice.
The danger in jumping to action is you’ll end up owning something you don’t want. When your solution fails, will happen if whatever help you give is seen as advice. Are you ready for the trade you will make when you give advice? When you give someone advice, they will hand you the responsibility for the outcome.
There are unintended consequences to being handed responsibility. You will be blamed if your advice results in something which fails. How many times do you hear “I was just doing what I was told?”
Rather than jumping into action, I would propose you start by pausing. Ask yourself what assumptions are you making in this moment?
Then, start providing help by asking a powerful question such as “What does help look like?”
You might discover they want something far simpler than you are assuming. It’s possible they want someone to bounce ideas off to gain a different perspective. Or, perhaps they’re asking you for help because they believe you have the knowledge they lack (whether or not that’s true).
Despite asking questions, the person asking for help may not always know what they want. When this happens, resist the temptation of jumping into action. Instead, I’d propose the following steps:
Put your coach hat on and ask a few powerful questions. Your goal is to help the person get clear on the problem, and what has them feeling stuck. If you don’t know, a powerful question does not have a binary answer such as yes or no. A powerful question invites curiosity and…