How Can I Help You?

Friday, August 27, 2021 10:14 AM

If those you lead don’t see you as someone who can help them be successful in their job, you likely are not a leader for the 21st century. Leaders should be the critical source of success for their people and the jobs they do. A leader must be both a coach and someone who can remove roadblocks and obstacles. In fact, a leader should get into the habit of asking their people, “How can I help you?” Of course, the question needs to be sincere and authentic; otherwise, the leader will lose credibility, and of course, the leader must then deliver on the requests for help that their people have. But over time, as a leader delivers on the requests for assistance and continues to ask what support they can provide, the team will become better. As Colin Powell has stated, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.”

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. Serve and thou shall be served.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

While slightly different from servant leadership principles, asking how you can help your teammates is a service-oriented perspective and approach to take in your leadership. It is about knowing that there are things that prevent your teammates from being the most successful, the most efficient, or the most productive with their role and that the obstacles and roadblocks to these accomplishments are things that may be too big for them individually to tackle on their own, but are things that you, as the leader, can take on to solve. In some cases, the roadblock removal is easy to do from the authority your position holds, and your action can immediately eliminate that constraint for your team member. Other things may require you to do some more work, collaborate with other managers and leaders to address organizational level constraints, or make minor improvements you can implement when you cannot take on the full-scale fix that may be required. The key is understanding that part of your role as a leader is to remove the constraints preventing your people from being successful at their role and in doing their jobs. This leadership is not about directing action or giving direction; it is about taking action needed to make your team member’s task easier, more efficient, or more productive.  

The list of what a leader can do to improve working conditions or remove obstacles to better performance is broad. But regardless of the source of the roadblock, the practical implication is that many things stand in the way of people being successful in their jobs, which may be in the leader’s realm to address. A partial list of things that a leader should look at to ensure aren’t causing roadblocks for their people’s success includes:

  • Physical workplace conditions such as temperature, lighting, noise, smells
  • Safety and security, or lack thereof
  • Presence of toxic cultures, or harassing individuals, or bullies
  • Others taking the credit for their work
  • Accessibility of washrooms, their cleanliness, security, and serviceability
  • Ability to interface and meet with the clients and customers that they support
  • The practicality of company policies, procedures and programs
  • Unfair or inconsistent application of company policies or employment benefits
  • Lacking the tools necessary to do their jobs adequately (e.g. computer hardware or software, mechanical tools)
  • Inefficient work processes requiring significant manual entries or adjustments

All of these situations are obstacles to people being able to do their best work every day and erodes the ability of people to be efficient, productive, innovative and creative. As leaders, it is our duty to ensure that these conditions do not interfere with our people being the best they can be, but also to ask what is preventing them from doing their best work and what obstacles are in their way. And then, once discovered, we must work to remove them, mitigate them or minimize them and their impact.

The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.  Woodrow Wilson

While the above list provides examples of friction within the workplace that leaders should be working to resolve regardless of employee feedback, it is also essential for leaders to ask their team members what they can do to help. The obstacles to success arrive daily in people’s work, so engaging regularly and asking how you can help should become part of a leader’s regular interaction with their team. Of course, every leader should be seen as a help to someone trying to get their work done and succeed and not be a roadblock in themselves, but when you are asking for ways you can help, your team members may also identify things that you do that get in the way of their success. This feedback opens the door for a more meaningful discussion about how you can take action to get out of their way and support their success. Just be prepared for the reply when you ask. 

When combined with the principles of servant leadership and creating a psychologically safe work environment, a better work culture will evolve, as will the workgroup’s productivity. The creation and evolution of a success-based team culture and one that is mutually supportive and safe is fundamentally leader work. A leader cannot dictate the desired culture for the organization from the relative security of their office; they must be part of co-creating it with their teammates. Leaders must both be of the culture and shaping its direction at the same time. But one action that all leaders can undertake to help the team be more successful and each team member be as well is to ask what they can do to help make it better around here. It requires leaders to interact with their teams and staff, ask meaningful questions, and then take action on the identified obstacles. And as action is taken and improvements made, each subsequent roadblock removed works with the previous ones to make the system work better, and the people and team become more successful.

The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.  Robert K. Greenleaf

So start today. Simply ask with courage and the conviction to do something with the answer, “How can I help?” The impact of your authenticity and action may surprise you.