Why unasked for help often isn't ... and what to do about it

I’m going out on a limb and guessing one of the reasons you’re successful as a leader is your ability to see problems and come up with solutions. You’re probably one of the first to see where things can be better.

You know what I mean -  You experience a challenge, or someone surfaces a problem and pop! You see a better way, shimmering in your mind, clear as day.

Maybe your solution is just a good next step. Maybe it’s a more effective or efficient way to move forward. Maybe you want to provide a warning because you have hard-earned scars, and want to spare others pain and suffering.

You start to share, to contribute, to help and…

Hello, Resistance!

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Your unasked for help -- your brilliant idea -- backfires.

Or maybe not. If you have formal authority, you probably won’t face significant resistance. Yet if the opportunity or problem is with a peer or someone who has more authority than you, offering unwanted help can do more than set you back. Offering help can damage your standing and your relationship.

You know as a leader, people are counting on you to help the organization succeed. And you need everyone working together, giving their best, stretching themselves to be better. But when you see a problem outside your direct area of responsibility, it feels like you only have two choices:

One - Say nothing, and hope the organization can take it.
Two - Share your opinion, and hope the relationship can take it.

What about a third choice?

Instead of feeling damned if you do and damned if you don’t, here is one way to provide feedback that gets to results and builds your relationship with the other person.

How to help in a way that’s perceived as helpful

Step One - Think about what “help” is appropriate

What shared goal or needs would you be advancing by providing your thoughts? (Hint: What does the business need?)

You’re likely to get better results being shoulder-to-shoulder pointing out a shared challenge than face-to-face pointing at each other.

Step Two - Find out how they think it’s going

Imagine you want to help the other person develop their skills, rather than just solve the problem at hand. Finding out how they see the situation can help keep you from coming across as a busybody, telling them how to do their job.

You might find out they already know about the problem you want to bring up and are working on a solution. Or maybe they think it’s going well. Once you know their thoughts, it is much easier to...

Step Three - Share your thoughts in a helpful way

Here are some general tips to support you and the other person - along with some potholes and how to stay out of them - as you work together toward joint success.

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Poof! Help that’s helpful!

When you keep the other person’s needs and success in mind, you can provide guidance and support that is truly helpful to them - and you. I hope these three steps help you share your great ideas and insights in a way that strengthens your relationships with people in all levels of your organization and leads to better outcomes for all.

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Chris Hutchinson

As CEO of Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson thrives working with clients and his team to improve organizational clarity, teamwork, and leadership impact.

After years of building Legos® and tree houses around the world, Chris earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and followed that with an MBA. His experiences in the military and the business world taught him great leadership can be learned, and everyone is in some way a leader.

Clients and peers describe him as an inspirational catalyst for positive change. He is the author of Ripple - A Field Manual for Leadership That Works.

Chris and his wife live, garden, and bike in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have four children. He has an unrequited love affair with brownies.