Written by David

Guiding vs Rescuing

Hi! guiding

Knowing how to ask for help is a crucial skill. Being asked for help feels like – and usually is – being a good leader or boss (or parent). And yet, there aren’t enough hours in the day to help everyone all the time. You hire people to do things so that you can be freed up to do other things. You raise kids to do things so that they’ll know how to do them without you. 

All of this has been running through my mind this week as I start this season’s summer camp staff training season. Every year in May and June I am lucky to get to travel to some amazing day and overnight camps to help their staff get ready for the joyful and incredible task of being responsible for hundreds of children for the next 10 weeks or so. In preparation for my days with these groups I talk to each camp’s leadership staff about the challenges they want to address. This year a question is this:

How do we teach staff to ask for help when they need it, but not jump to asking for help without trying to solve the problem, just because it would just be easier to have someone else handle the situation? 

It’s absolutely common for bosses and leaders to notice that staff lean on them sooner and faster than in previous generations. We’ve spent a lot of effort in the past 15 years teaching kids to ask for help as a way of getting the support they need and to avoid danger. I don’t think we need to undo this work, it is making people safer and more supported. 

Instead I think we need to ask this important question: What does “help” mean?

Sometimes “help” means “Save me! Do this for me!” Sometimes “help” is a call to be rescued. And sometimes “help” means “can you show me?” or “Do you have any suggestions? I’m not sure how to do this.” No matter what the person asking for help thinks they need, there is some burden on the leader to figure out which kind of help is best to give.

Leaders need to be able to differentiate between danger – in which case we should jump in – and discomfort. Discomfort, even profound discomfort, leads to learning and growth. The next time your team member (or teen!) asks for help, start with some questions of your own:

  • Is anyone in true danger?
  • What has this person tried that has not worked?
  • What skill is this person lacking that would allow them to solve this themselves next time?

If someone is in danger, get involved and lead by modeling how you want the situation handled. Praise this person later for bringing this to you right away.

If no one is in danger, do the harder thing. Instead of rescuing, teach. Teach this person to think through options, try solutions or build the skills they need to do so the next time. Even though you may meet some resistance, a leader’s job is to rescue people from danger, not from discomfort.

Has anyone asked you for help recently?

All my best,

Dr. G

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