Monday, October 12, 2015

Being a Good Helper May Be Bad for Your Career

It's often advised that those seeking to make their mark at work should be willing to stick up their hand and volunteer for a project, lend a helping hand to others when it's needed and generally be the person who is willing to do what it takes to help the team succeed.

The reason, of course, is that by taking such action you will garner the notice of higher-ups. They will realize what a great employee you are, and then promote you and give you great projects.

Hold on.

There is a fine line that you must walk when taking such an approach. You don't want to be seen as the person who is "such a good helper." The person who can be called upon to work late nights and weekends, who will pitch in to do the most trivial work without complaint.

If you take on that role, be prepared to never move beyond the "helper" role. Why? Because when you're a helper, others don't see you as a leader. As John Kotter in the Harvard Business Review wrote about more than a decade ago, leaders are a different breed. They are the ones who help an organization cope with change -- and you're certainly never going to have the time to do that if you're organizing a PowerPoint for someone else.

Let me stress that there's nothing wrong with helping. By helping, you establish yourself as someone who is a team player, and you can learn a lot by assisting others.


Just make sure you don't go overboard. When you offer your help, also consider what you're getting out of it. Will making a Starbucks run really help you learn a new skill or make important alliances? Or, would it be better to offer to help a top team member who is working on a key project that is expected to make the company a lot of money?

If you can't make that distinction -- or you have difficulty saying "no" -- then you may need to re-evaluate your career path.


Nick said...

Hi, I mentor executives and recently went into a local store to buy some groceries. I had excellent service and the checkout person was ever so helpful. I raised this very point about being too helpful and advised they still need to think about their future career path. They were just starting off and were in the early stages of their career, so I posed the thought about being too helpful for the 'here and now' versus the long-term on how they could apply / leverage such customer services skills at a higher level at get noticed, such as a customer service manager. They could easily get on a management training scheme and learn as they go, but importantly continue progression and see where it takes them! The main point was to be a bit more visionary about their careers rather than simply see it as a job. Nick

PeteRambling said...

Anita, Hi. I've been a fan of Kotter's since being introduced to his 8 Step Model for Change".

I'm intrigued by the point you are making here probably because of its juxtaposition with LEGO's Jørgen Vig Knudstorp's "Blame is not for mistakes. Blame is only for failing to help, or to ask for help".

The ideas are not in opposition, but when put into juxtaposition they invite some further consideration.

For example: "If you have trouble saying no . . " I'd be looking to my Responsibility Statement said, the current state of my KPI's, and to the priorities of what was already my Daily Task Sheet as a balance for assessing the relative priority ("relative value creating potential") of taking on something for or from someone else.

Anita said...

Thanks for your comments. I do think it's a tricky road, because sometimes it's difficult to know when it's a good idea to help -- and when someone may be just taking advantage of you. I hope this discussion will at least prompt some people to take a second look at what they do, because I don't know of any boss or co-worker who is going to say: "You're helping TOO much."