Taking Steps toward Leadership–Helpful

So far, we have talked about qualities of character–what you are inside.  This is important to understand.  These are not activities that you can just check off, these are a part of your inner being.  The activity that you see is a direct result of the person you are.  If you are not a trustworthy person, though you may act trustworthy, sooner or later you will be found out.  If you are not a loyal person, you may act loyal, but there will come a time when it is not in your best interest to be loyal, and people will see you for who you really are.  Someone that betrays a trust or becomes disloyal is spurned, and it takes a longer time to re-establish the relationship.  Sometimes it is a bigger problem because that person represents a larger community.  Imagine the impact if the untrustworthy person is a clergyman!  Imagine the repercussions if the disloyal person is a representative in government?  The whole group is disparaged.  All clergy are not trustworthy, all governmental people are not loyal to those they represent.  It’s a matter of perspective.  If a situation comes up, you don’t think to yourself, “What would a trustworthy and loyal person do?”  You think, “I am a trustworthy and loyal person.  What is the course of action that would most benefit the people I represent?”

Now we come to the next quality:  helpfulness.  Think of this as a two or more person project.  When you help someone, you are providing a missing ingredient that allows them to be successful.  When you help a person across the street, you are watching for traffic or you are keeping them steady, or you might be allowing them the needed time to make it across.  You are not scooping them up and carrying them across.  When you are helping a student with his homework, you are locating the information in the book and marking the page, you are providing proofreading to check for misspellings and grammar, you are asking questions so that they can remember the information needed to complete the homework.  You are not barging in with your computer and doing it yourself.  When you are helping a person get money, you might provide a ride to an interview, you might help them dress for success, you might work with them on their interview techniques.  You don’t just hand them $100.  Jim Rohn used to say, “What’s important is not the million dollars; what’s important is the person you have become in the process of becoming a millionaire.”  So, in being helpful, you are not trying to solve the problem in the most efficient way, you are aiding in a process that makes the person you are helping to be a better person.  You are making the process repeatable.

The problem usually shows up when someone you know comes to you and says, “Can you help me?”  How is this a problem?  Usually because they have no idea what kind of help they need!  A friend of mine is a district officer in an organization.  She had someone volunteer to run a conference as a project to improve her leadership skills.  This person had to recruit a team of people she could delegate projects to, and a team of people designated as a guidance committee to answer questions and “help” her should snags pop up. My friend was on the guidance committee.  The volunteer gathered her team, and started delegating jobs.  She gave updates to her guidance committee, and then asked a question about one of the aspects of the conference.  My friend stepped in and got the venue, developed the programs for the break-out sessions between contests, chose the judges, and lined up the catering.  Was she helpful?  The project was accomplished, but did the volunteer benefit?  I got a message from her saying that though the conference would go on, it would go on without her as she was resigning from the project since, as she put it, “it was no longer my project!”  Will the conference go off without a hitch?  There is always a hitch but the fallout, so far, is toxic.  The disenfranchised volunteer is not going to keep quiet about this because people ask her why she’s no longer involved.  Will more people be willing to step up to organize conferences in the future?  I don’t know.  There is another conference in the spring, and if the word goes out, my friend, the district officer will not only have her own duties to attend to, she’ll have to organize the conference too.  To give you an idea how big a project this is, there are usually between 30 and 40 people involved in putting together a conference like this.  Last year, every conference chair resigned, the treasurer, the secretary and the parliamentarian all resigned, and an area manager resigned.  This year, they’ve had problems recruiting people to be area managers, and those who volunteered to fill the roles of conference chairs and major officers are mostly standing on the sidelines and not doing much beyond the bare minimums.

What went wrong?  The help was not defined.  Instead of asking what kind of help was needed, the assumption was made that the person in charge had no idea what to do and so the job had to be done for her.  What can we learn from this?  If you require help, specify what kind of help is needed.  If someone requests help from you, ask questions to figure out what exactly is needed, then take a step back and ask yourself what can this person do without me?  Your goal in helping is to supply something that only you can do: expertise, connections, money, whatever it is that allows the person to continue or finish the project on their own.

Picture a boy scout wrestling an old lady across the intersection while she’s yelling, “I don’t want to go this way!!!!”  If instead he asks her, “Would you like some help crossing the street?” he might get the answer, “No, young man, I just crossed the street.  I’m looking for my shopping list.”  He also might get, “Why yes I would!  These lights change so fast I can barely get 1/2 way across before they change!”  He’d then reply, “I’ll hit the button and when the light changes you start across.  I’ll make sure you get to the other side before the traffic starts through again,” and then he’d direct traffic to allow her to cross.  The thing is, if he doesn’t ask, he doesn’t know.  How about this example:  “Dad can you help me with my math homework?  I don’t get it.”  Dad should say, “Walk me through it.  What do you understand?  Can I see yesterday’s assignment?  Where are you in the book?  Do you have your notes from class?”  Then after he’s looked over all the information, then he gets to the meat of the matter.  His son needs help on procedure.  He then asks questions to help the boy remember the procedure and writes it down.  Then he does some supervising as the boy practices.  That is helpful!

In being helpful the perspective is always on the person or the project.  The person is the focus of a helpful individual, and the project is the focus of a manager.  Keep your attention on the person!

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