“How Can I Help?”

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Really cool wall hanging I got for Christmas from my awesome family!

I was following a chat on Twitter yesterday morning.  The topic was “How to Help Struggling Teachers.”  There were literally hundreds of great ideas shared through this chat.  My contribution was: “Ask, ‘How can I help?'”

I reflected on this question quite a bit throughout the rest of the day.  As a leader, I think this is one of the most important questions we can ask, not just to struggling teachers, but to everyone we lead!

“How can I help?” is different than many other questions that are meant to say the same thing:

  • Asking “Do you need help?” indicates that I notice you are having problems and you are not capable of handling it on your own.  “How can I help?” puts the ball in their court.  
  • Asking “How can I help?” instead of telling you what I will do to help indicates that I trust you.
  • Sometimes I find myself just helping, because that’s what leaders do.  I haven’t asked if it will help, I just assumed you would appreciate it.  More often than not, I think I’m spinning my wheels!  You probably needed help doing something else.  The thing I did instead probably wasn’t that helpful after all, and you’ll go back and do it your own way.  Next time, I’ll ask, “How can I help?”

When I ask, “How can I help?” what I’m really saying is:

  • Are there obstacles in your way that I can clear out for you?
  • Do you have the tools and resources that you need to teach?
  • Is there something wrong with our processes that we can improve?
  • Is there something that I can do that will increase the likelihood that students will succeed?

(thanks to Art Petty’s blog, “Leadership Caffeine” for the inspiration behind these ideas.)

As we begin the new year, commit to asking the question, “How can I help?” These four simple words can change your outlook on leadership!

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2 thoughts on ““How Can I Help?”

  1. This is great food for thought, David, and the response in the chat was prolific, as one of the other participants pointed out. We don’t ask that question often enough. Interestingly, I found myself reflecting on your post not just as a leader, but as a person being led as well. I have a supervisor who is very good about asking this question…and it’s interesting because I’m often at a loss as to how to respond. Maybe it’s because I don’t think I need help at the time; maybe it’s because I’m independent by nature and want to figure it out myself. Either way, I always feel supported when he asks, and I know without question he stands ready to help. In addition, I almost always leave the conversation with a new thought or approach.

    If “How can I help?” gets our teammates thinking, seems to me that’s a mighty big chunk of what leadership is all about. 🙂 Great stuff!

  2. Pingback: Challenge Accepted… | Stealing Second

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