The blog today begins with a simple question composed of five words ranging in length from one to four letters each, and may just be the most significant and important right combination of words you could use to get ahead in your career.
What I find of great interest, is that if you invert the word, “You” to a possessive, “Me”, and you switch the word, “I” to its opposite, “You”, the question turns to what most people do in real life, which is to ask, “How can you help me?” Where the first question posed is an offer to lend aid to another, the second is a question asked to receive help while offering none. The great irony of course is that in the giving of help we often receive help ourselves in the future, but our self-image improves in the here-and-now via the act of helping.
Look at each of the five words for a minute. “How” implies that either there are multiple ways of providing assistance, or the single way is not immediately aware to the person extending the offer. Sometimes it is clearly evident how one can help, as in the case of someone’s car spinning their wheels in deep snow. What they need is a push, so you push. When you ask, “How?” it gives the other person a chance to respond with whatever they would most benefit from at a given moment. Seeing someone struggle with a project is a good example of where it may not be immediately clear what stage they are at, where help would be most welcomed, or what barrier they need help to overcome, so ask rather than assume.
The word, “can” is a positive indicating you have some ability or abilities, and it is this offer of aid you are extending. You have the capacity to do something helpful, and are making yourself available. The middle word, “I” shows ownership. You are making the offer on behalf of you; not your department, not some less-than-motivated fellow employee, just you. So the offer of assistance is made by you and you alone like a promise to take some of the responsibility for the outcome. Think of offering to help put some papers together before quitting time with someone else. Make the offer to help and you’re really taking on some of the responsibility to meet someone else’s deadline.
Lastly is the word, “help”. The word alone became a movie and extremely successful song for the Beatles. John’s use of the word however was a plea for someone to help him. In arranging the words as they are in the heading for this blog, “help” is actually extended rather than requested. And there is the crux of the entire sentence. Said in another way, “How can I help you?” becomes, “In what way or ways, am I personally able to provide assistance to you with something of importance you are working on?” Good thing we don’t talk like this everyday! Whew that’s a lot of words!
A simple five word sentence puts the concept of servant leadership into practice with regular, sincere use. You might find that if you go about your daily routines and look for opportunities to help others, rather than looking for ways they could help you, that you build your brand or reputation as one who is always quick to offer help in the workplace. An absolute must however, is your willingness and commitment to actually providing the help that is then in turn requested of you. So if you really aren’t willing to help somebody else, and you’re really hoping they just say, “No thanks, I’m good”; well, you might be surprised. If you walk away and don’t actually help in any way, your brand and reputation will also be reinforced, but in a negative way.
One thing you can do for others is make known to them the skill set you have, the talents you possess, or the contacts you know. Knowing what you have to offer may in turn make it easier for someone else to then pick out the way in which you can help them, and clarify for both of you what is offered, and what is requested. This in turn, makes it beneficial to both you and whomever you are extending an offer of aid to, for they can identify where help is needed, and you’ve offered a service, product or skill that you are making readily available.
One final thought here, is that if you offer help to someone else, they truly may not take you up on it, but at the same time really appreciate your willingness to lend a hand. Recognize that this is not always a sense of pride or arrogance, but perhaps that person is gauging their own ability to accomplish something, and best then to let your offer of help be known should they want it in the future. And should you get involved, please do make sure that you are very clear about the desired end result. You don’t want to assume you know what you are working towards only to find out that the biggest help you could provide is to just walk away.
Consider lending a hand, extending an offer of help, and build your reputation as one who is always quick to lend a hand around the workplace. You’ll feel good inside when things get done and who knows, it may actually work to advance your own career as a side benefit.