I created a problem this week because I helped too much. A member of my team made a few casual comments. I took the ball and ran with it.
The people who should have taken action weren’t even at the table.
I should have asked:
- What’s happening?
- What issues need to be addressed? (If any.)
- How can I help? (The answer would have been nothing.)
Rather than asking the above questions, I made some quick decisions and sent a few emails.
I solved a problem that didn’t exist. I was just being helpful.
It’s not helpful to help too much.
7 ways leaders address issues and opportunities:
- Ask questions.
- Provide clarity and help with communication, when necessary.
- Allocate resources, when appropriate.
- Do things only you can do.
- Get out of the way. Let others do what they do best.
- Follow up.
- What’s working?
- What could be better?
- What are you learning?
- Who can help?
- Honor people’s contribution and celebrate progress.
What about real problems?
Don’t be too helpful with problems – don’t be aloof, either.
In 1974, William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass wrote a Harvard Business Review classic, “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” (Reprinted with comments by Stephen R. Covey.)
When someone walks in your office with a problem, they say they want help, but that’s not always true. What they often want is for you to take the problem – the monkey – off their back.
“Helpful” managers are too eager to own monkeys. You’re overworked and overwhelmed because you’re too damn helpful.
Over-helpful managers create helplessness in teams.
The moment you own someone’s problem, they no longer need help. They don’t have a problem. You do.
Real help is enabling, not disabling.
How might managers deal with the problem of owning other people’s problems?