I’ve worked for a lot of managers – good, great, average and awful. In consulting, I would switch projects every few months. More often than not, I’d have a new manager I was reporting to and just as often I would be assigned a new internal career counselor.
Have you worked with any of these managers? You may even see yourself in some of the descriptions…
I’ve worked for managers that were at my desk every hour asking me “How’s it going?” What they really wanted was a status report.
The I Can’t Be Bothered
I’ve worked for managers that were harder to find than a needle in a haystack. They told me, “I trust you, I’ll check in with you in a few days. OK?” What they really wanted was for me to just get the work done so they didn’t need to worry about it.
The Just Like This
I’ve worked for managers that drew out all the details for the deck that they wanted me to develop. They asked, “Do you get it? Am I clear with what I’m looking for?” What they really wanted was an extra pair of hands, not another thinker in the equation.
The Tell Me I’m Brilliant
I’ve worked for managers that would give me their high level vision and then ask, “What do you think?” (But then work hard to discredit my ideas and suggestions.) What they really wanted was for me to nod and clap and say how brilliant they are and how lucky I am to bring their vision to life.
The Smartest One
I’ve worked for managers (even when I was a VP) that told me that they’d do the talking in the meeting. They asked, “If I missed something, can you shoot me an IM so I’ll be sure to say it?” What they really wanted was to be viewed as the smartest person in the room. To be the leader.
While I have worked for a lot of managers, I’ve worked for far less leaders. The leaders were as invested in my success, the team’s success, and the organization’s success as their own. They weren’t concerned about credit or looking smart, they wanted to do great work and create a great place to work.
The leaders I’ve had the privilege to work for delivered exceptional levels of support and service not only to the customer, but also to employees. It was a few of these leaders that taught me the power of one very simple question; the most powerful question a leader can ask.
Four Words: How Can I Help?
The leaders that asked me this question? What they really wanted was for me to succeed. For us to create something exceptional together. To deliver the unexpected. To empower the next generation of leaders.
- How can I help you remove roadblocks?
- How can I help you to brainstorm?
- How can I help to connect you with others?
- How can I help build on your work?
- How can I help you to achieve your goals?
- How can I help you realize your career ambitions?
- How can I help to solve your problem?
- How can I help shine the light on your effort?
- How can I help to spread the word?
- How can I help you be successful?
- How can I get out of your way so you can do great work? I’m here if you need me.
Try it for the next few days and see how it changes the conversation at home, in the office, with customers, colleagues, friends and family. Ask how you can help.
People that waited to be told what to do will discover that they own their work, not you. They will think about what they need and learn that you genuinely want them to speak up for themselves. They own the work as much as you do.
Instead of shining a mysterious green light in the sky to let people to let people know that they can run with the work, this is it. Let them walk, run, skip and jump with their own panache knowing that you fully have their back.
When you ask how you can help and truly mean it, you’re letting someone know that they matter. You want them to succeed as much as they want to succeed. That’s a powerful gift to give someone.
“How can I help” is my favorite question for a leader to ask. What are some other powerful questions that you ask that inspire others to do and be their best?