Earlier this year, I broke the fifth metatarsal of my right foot. It was just a crack, and it mended itself nicely. I've already stowed in the back of a closet what I've come to call my "first cane," and soon I'll resume running.
But I learned some things from this experience — things that apply to more of life than just breaking a bone in your foot. Here are four insights that might help people who lead teams or manage projects.
- When you sense trouble, pay attention
- For a week before my foot finally gave out, it hurt. I ignored it. I should have seen a doctor. I didn't, and the bone finally cracked.
- It's a lot easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble. When you notice signs of trouble in a project or in a team, find out what's going on. Don't let trouble simmer. It will only come to a boil. See "Some Things I've Learned Along the Way," Point Lookout for October 19, 2005.
- Ask for help
- I needed help for the little tasks in life that I normally do for myself. Some help came from friends and acquaintances; some came from paid services. But very little came without my seeking it or accepting that I needed it.
- It's OK to ask for help. It's OK to take your time, if you need to, when people around you are in a hurry. If you need something to get the job done, ask for it. See "Help for Asking for Help," Point Lookout for December 10, 2003, for more about asking for help.
- Some people might decline your request for help
- It's OK to
ask for help.
It's OK to
take your time.
- Some of the people I asked for help didn't provide it.
- Remember that when you ask for help, you're only asking, and the people you ask can decline, or offer something different from what you asked for. Prepare yourself for answers other than "yes." You might get a counter offer that could work, or you might get a flat "no." If that happens, you have to deal with that, too.
- Some help isn't help
- Some people, trying to help, actually make things more difficult. For instance, they hold open doors that stay open by themselves, and in doing so, they narrow the passageway.
- Know how to handle help that isn't really help. It might be necessary to explain why adding staff doesn't make the project go faster, or why some people are just the wrong people for the work to be done. Be clear.
Most important, remember that some help is difficult to repay. Real help requires that you know of a need, that the person in need agrees about the need, that you have permission to help, and that you be able to help. Those four factors must all be present, and if they aren't, you might not be able to return the favor. If you can return a favor, fine. But don't wait too long for the chance — "return" it to somebody else. Top Next Issue
For a fascinating exploration of returning help to somebody else, read Pay It Forward, by Catherine Ryan Hyde (Simon and Schuster, 2000) (Order from Amazon.com). Or see the film, with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment, and directed by Mimi Leder (Order from Amazon.com).
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Shooting Ourselves in the Feet
- When you give a demo to a small audience, there's a danger of overwhelming them in a behavior I call
"swarming." Here are some tips for terrific demos to small audiences.
- Decisions, Decisions: II
- Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but
it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions?
- Annoyance to Asset
- Unsolicited contributions to the work of one element of a large organization, by people from another,
are often annoying to the recipients. Sometimes the contributors then feel rebuffed, insulted, or frustrated.
Toxic conflict can follow. We probably can't halt the flow of contributions, but we can convert it from
a liability to a valuable asset.
- Guidelines for Delegation
- Mastering the art of delegation can increase your productivity, and help to develop the skills of the
people you lead or manage. And it makes them better delegators, too. Here are some guidelines for delegation.
- Managing Hindsight Bias Risk
- Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after
outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness
of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
- We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
- And on November 29: Manipulators Beware
- When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
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