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Why Being Too Helpful Is A Bad Habit For Leaders | Jones Loflin

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Let’s imagine for a moment that you are a gardener. Do any of the actions below seem like a good idea and Why Being Too Helpful Is A Bad Habit For Leaders?


  • Planting a seed and then digging it back up from time to time to check its progress

  • Forcing open a flower bud with your fingernails because it isn’t opening fast enough

  • Pulling on a tree limb because it’s not growing fast enough to provide shade


Hopefully you answered a resounding NO to all three of these scenarios. Any of those actions will inhibit the healthy growth of the seed, flower, or plant. Interestingly enough however, you CAN influence the environment each of these items are in to accelerate the desired outcomes.


In a similar way, I believe some leaders and managers practice poor “gardening” techniques with the people on their team when they are too helpful. They think that giving others all the answers to the situations they encounter will result in a healthy team member. It won’t. They are actually creating someone who will be dependent on them to solve future issues or challenges because they haven’t cultivated their analytical thinking skills, creativity, or confidence in their abilities.


Giving all the answers doesn’t create a healthy team member.


Ultimately, the leader’s time available for strategic-thinking talent development is severely limited.


Before we explore solutions to this bad habit, let’s look at some potential root causes:


You have an unhealthy view of what it means to be “nice” in your leadership role
In her insightful article, When Being Nice Backfires, Nicole Lipkin writes, “‘Nice’ shouldn’t mean being a pushover, always saying yes, being incapable of giving constructive feedback…. Nice needs to be defined as having a positive impact on your people and the organization as a whole.”


You’re too busy

When your day is over-scheduled with meetings, putting out fires, and trying to keep your inbox in check, quickly dishing out answers can make you feel like you’re getting things done. What you are actually doing is robbing yourself of a more sane future because you aren’t growing your team’s ability to think creatively and be more independent.


You aren’t meeting with your team members with a healthy consistency

One of the greatest attributes of a successful gardener is that they regularly check their plants to assess their growth and identify their needs. If you’re not doing regular check ins with each team member consistently, you probably feel bad when they bring you a litany of questions and challenges with which they need your guidance. So… you reason that the most kind thing to do would be to give them all the answers as a way to make up for not being there for them. It might make you feel better, but have you really helped them to grow?


Is doing too much of their work the consequence of you feeling guilty that you aren’t leading them well?


If you’re feeling a little like that gardener I described in the beginning, here are two suggestions to create a more healthy environment for their growth (and yours!):


Challenge Your Impulse To Be Too Helpful


Before you drift to an unhealthy level of helping, ask yourself, “Will taking this action improve the ability of this team member to solve problems on their own in the future?” or “Is this going to help the organization build future leaders?” or even “Is this action going to help me grow this team member so that I can rely on them for bigger things in the future?” If the answer is no, consider one of the options below to improve your approach.


Ask More And Tell Less


When a team member comes to you seeking advice or guidance, resist the urge to immediately tell them an answer. Instead, be prepared with questions like:


  • What actions have you taken so far to solve the problem?

  • What do you think needs to be done in this situation?

  • Tell me what you see as the main issue here.

  • What do you think we should do next to address the issue?

  • What solution would you choose if I wasn’t here?

  • What solution do you think I’m going to offer?

  • How can I help you take the next step?


And don’t forget… when you ask these questions, really listen to their ideas.


Use The GROW Method


G-R-O-W has been around as a coaching structure since the 1970’s. It’s an effective tool to use anytime you want to guide someone to taking action. Here’s how it works:


You start by asking them the GOAL with the situation.


Next you have them share the REALITY of where things are. This helps show the gap that has to be addressed to achieve the goal.


You then start brainstorming OPTIONS with them, using questions like the ones I mentioned previously. Tell them that no ideas are too ridiculous at this point. You just want to get them thinking.


Finish the conversation by determining the WAY FORWARD. What is the next action they can take to address the problem? And how can you help them take that action?


I like using this method because it challenges them to think in terms of goals and not just quick fixes.


Stop and ask yourself, “Am I choosing this approach to help them grow, or just to show them how much I know?”


I hear your rebuttal. You’re saying, “But I don’t have time to do this! I’ve already got too much on my plate.” Hmmm. Let’s see why that’s the case. Could one reason be because you’re spending too much time on small problems your team members should be handling on their own?


Maybe it’s time for you to think more like a gardener.


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