One way to get much more out of all that you’re doing is to start answering (for yourself) this question: “What needs doing?”
There are two elements to being helpful: one is taking useful action at any level (even if it seems beneath you), and the other is taking initiative in the process of taking the action.
Be Helpful at Any Level
I used to have this boss, Vic Brumley, who did a great job of answering the question, “what needs doing?” He’d do anything, from running out to pick up boxes of coffee for the engineers, to jumping on the phones to help the network operations center alert all our customers to the problem at hand. Vic never ever pulled rank during a situation. He just did what needed doing.
Have you ever had people volunteer to help? (No matter the situation, just have you?) There are two categories, near as I can tell: willing hands, and engaged hearts and minds. The former do a great job of doing whatever you instruct them to do. The latter take some of the weight off your shoulders and get things moving.
Forget the Uncertainty
There are levels of control and leadership that start with dictation (you do this) and end with autonomous leadership (you do whatever you want). Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is the level I mentioned above: “I intend to.” When you want to help people with what needs doing, unless you’ve got a very long and strong history together, it’s probably best to work with the “I intend to” method.
What stops you from taking an informed guess at what needs doing? Simple. We worry that we’ll do something that doesn’t need doing, or that’s needless. Here’s a way around that.
“I’m thinking that I’ll do ______. Would that be helpful right now?”
If the person answers that it’s not helpful, recommend something else. Pause and try to see the situation from the central person’s eyes, and then come back with, “Maybe this would be useful?”
One of two things will happen: it will be helpful, or the person will likely just nod and set you to the task so they can return to their own messes.
A Memorable Phone Call
Last year, Tim Sanders called me. He spoke for 15 minutes (as he said he would). He gave me connections to all kinds of helpful people, and some advice, as well as a few more resources. I hadn’t asked him any questions. I hadn’t asked him for anything. He just did it because that’s “the lovecat way to do things,” according to Tim ( I wrote about this experience here).
Tim just did what he felt needed doing, without me prompting him, and outside of any particular “situation.” That lingers in my mind as one of the most memorable phone calls I ever received. Imagine the impact you could make on others by doing the same.
Initiative Is Gold
People who take the initiative and help with what needs doing are the same people who are never out of work. They are the people who find opportunity all around them. They are the people who always have an exciting project on their plates. They rise up the ranks faster at work, and they meet with success faster than their “awaiting instructions” brethren.
A core concept of what I’m building at Human Business Works is that all of us work towards being helpful, towards answering what needs doing. I invite you to do the same in as many ways as possible. The rewards are quite wonderful.