The need to help out others can be a leadership trap, especially if it keeps you from doing your most important work. This may represent a shift in thinking but it can Clear the Path of some major distractions.
When I was in charge of a professional ballet company, somehow my duties as Executive Director included filling the vending machine. Yes, I was putting cases of soda into a machine and collecting the money inside.
The person who had previously done the task had left and others had complained it involved too much lifting. Perhaps to save myself from a complaint avalanche or to escape my duties for a while, I took on the job.
At the time, I thought that by doing this menial task, I was making a statement that no job was below a position and that everyone should be willing to help out during challenging times.
But while I was handling Mountain Dew, I wasn’t focused on my big picture goals. Those 15 to 20 minutes weren’t being spent on making sure staff was being paid, vendors were compensated in a timely fashion, and donors were engaged. In order to get everything done, I’d end up staying late. Over time, that mileage adds up.
Was I serving anyone by being a very well compensated vending machine stocker? The machine did produce revenue but not a game changing amount. Eventually, I had someone else take over the job. Another option would have been to have paid the soda delivery guy to do the work.
Let’s visit another situation. A hurricane has just hit South Florida and I am in charge of a distribution center for food, water and ice. These are very busy places after a storm as power and water can be unavailable to people for days.
While I was in charge of dozens of volunteers, I couldn’t physically help them out. At the time, my chest was full of staples as I had recently had surgery. There was no way I could lift cases of water or 20 pound bags of ice.
So my focus was entirely on supporting them in other ways. I made sure volunteers were assigned to the proper duties, brought water bottles to anyone who was thirsty, and streamlined the distribution process.
Had I been healthy, I probably would have rolled up my sleeves and jumped on the line and started lifting stuff. But would that have helped me accomplish the overall goal of taking a group of strangers and turning them into an efficient relief team?
It turns out that the absence of my muscles didn’t matter. The volunteers picked up any slack that my absence could have caused and the operation was fine. I was doing more good by overseeing the process and not being an active part in it.
It’s very tempting to want to help out your team but most of the time, you should resist the urge. In order to be the Queen Bee, you can’t act like a Worker Bee. Not everyone will understand this and you may hear some complaints. But you’ll hear more if you’re not succeeding in your efforts to achieve your goals, which usually ensure that people get paid and your organization grows.
Start acting like a leader and stop trying to help out.