When ‘helping out’ isn’t helpful – insights for leaders

When ‘helping out’ isn’t helpful – insights for leaders

The language we use and the strategies we adopt hold significant weight for how effectively things get done. Never more so than when asking team members to ‘help you out’ on something that falls outside their usual scope of responsibility.

Whilst writing The Emotional Overdraft and speaking to hundreds of leaders and founders about their own emotional overdrafts, there was a common theme that came up time and again. It was the perception was that whilst teams often said they would do something, ‘it would never actually get done’. Something that had a significant and negative impact on leaders’ emotional overdrafts.

So why do your apparently well meaning teams often fail to deliver? Here’s what I’ve discovered…

The Illusion of Assistance: When Help Isn’t Helpful

Imagine a leader asking their Senior Management Team (SMT) to “help out” with tasks, be it recruitment, project management or something else. The response is often positive, with team members appearing willing to lend a hand. However, this is where the complexities begin. The issue isn’t the willingness to assist but the lack of clarity and accountability that comes with the term “help out.” The phrase implies a non-committal approach, suggesting that the task may be completed if convenient, leading to unmet expectations and incomplete tasks.

The Dilemma of Delegation and Accountability

The core issue lies in the difference between “helping out” and “delegating.” Delegation involves assigning a task with clear expectations, timelines, and deliverables. In contrast, “helping out” lacks these specifics, making it challenging to hold someone accountable. This ambiguity often results in tasks being deprioritised or forgotten, adding to the leader’s stress and emotional overdraft.

Actionable Insights for Leaders

  1. Embrace Clear Communication: When delegating, be explicit about what needs to be done, by whom, and by when. This clarity reduces misunderstandings and sets a firm foundation for accountability.
  2. Establish Accountability Frameworks: Develop a system where progress can be tracked and team members are held responsible for their commitments. This could involve regular check-ins or milestone reviews.
  3. Foster a Culture of Responsibility: Encourage a team environment where everyone feels accountable for their tasks. This involves moving away from the casualness of “helping out” to a more structured approach to task management.
  4. Reflect on Your Leadership Style: Sometimes, the reluctance to delegate firmly stems from the leader’s discomfort, especially if they were previously peers with team members. Reflect on your leadership style and consider if adjustments are needed to foster a more effective delegation approach.
  5. Develop Habits of Effective Delegation: For new leaders, delegating effectively might not come naturally. It’s essential to recognise this as a skill that can be developed over time through practice and feedback.

The concept of “helping out” might seem benign, but it can lead to significant issues in task completion and team dynamics. As leaders, it’s crucial to be mindful of how we frame requests and the implications of our words. By fostering a culture of clear communication and accountability, leaders can avoid the pitfalls of vague delegation and ensure their team operates efficiently and effectively.



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