better performance and outcomes. It follows, then, that leaders often have a willingness and desire to help teammates, but the most effective of them also understand that simply being willing isn't enough—that they need to make colleagues feel comfortable reaching out for assistance by presenting themselves as welcoming and approachable.
That's why I've started regularly asking my team, "How can I help?" and what appeared at first to be just a simple query has materially and positively impacted both the company culture and its performance. Here's are some of its effects:
1. Team Members Feel SupportedHow many times have you heard leadership insist that "My door is always open?"—a commonly used phrase that conveys a willingness to help whenever it's needed. Yet, while often spoken with positive intentions, this blanket statement actually fails to encourage colleagues to raise their hands for support.
Instead, be more direct in your approach by asking how you can help. Try asking the question during one-on-one meetings with direct reports or when checking in on the progress of a project. You will find that it reassures staff members they have support and makes them comfortable discussing needs, which leads to happier individual employees and a boost in overall morale.
2. Instills a Sense of ValueAsking "How can I help?" benefits not only the recipient of the question, but leaders, too, who typically face responsibilities that can result in feeling disconnected from teams and their day-to-day work. In taking this approach, you remind yourself of the value you bring to your company.
I've found it to be incredibly rewarding when colleagues share how I can be helpful and better ensure their success. The collaboration that often follows these conversations strengthens my relationships with colleagues and provides reassurance that I, too, am a valuable contributor.
3. Builds Communication SkillsAs mentioned above, general statements often fail to foster a welcoming company culture. While "My door is always open" and "How can I help?" may have the same intention behind them, they generate vastly different responses. Adjusting to a more direct approach provides clarity and helps you understand how a team thinks. In time, you realize that the silence the former statement resulted in was not an indication that colleagues didn't need help, but that they weren't sure how to ask for it and/or felt they would be viewed as lacking capability if they did. Part of being an effective leader is adapting to and embracing your team's different communication styles.
4. Leads to Broader OpportunitiesThe beginning stages of a career are usually filled with chasing dreams and unlocking opportunities. There is, however, a common misconception that once you become a leader, you have knowledge and access to all those desired opportunities. There will always be projects that move forward without you, even at the leadership level. This might be because their associated work is considered below your paygrade or outside your area of expertise.
It is commonly advised to those starting out in their careers that asking others how you can help will lead to greater opportunities, and this approach is something you should embrace throughout your career. Even at the leadership level, asking colleagues if they need assistance can lead to new opportunities that would have been otherwise missed.
5. Produces Stronger ResultsThink back to a time when you were solely responsible for completing a project. Did you spend too many hours staring at a proposal, or hitting a roadblock when ideating against a creative brief? In such cases, needed deliverables would likely have been strengthened by fresh thinking and collaboration with colleagues. In my experience, taking the initiative to engage as to how you can help leads to more robust outputs and higher-quality work.
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