I have been reflecting recently on a seemingly simple concept that Edgar Schein espouses in his book, “Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help.” According to him, the first step in helping someone is to build trust. And the best way to do this is to use humble inquiry to ask questions.
More importantly, the onus of building trust lies with the person doing the helping, not with the person asking for help. This is a crucial concept for those of us who aspire to become lean leaders.
As Schein explains, if the helper does not start a relationship with an individual they are supporting by building trust, but instead chooses to provide information the other person either already knows or doesn’t need, they may feel disrespected. They have made themselves vulnerable in the first place by asking for help, and doing this increases the knowledge differential. One can easily see how a misstep at the beginning of a helping relationship would lead to the individual asking for help shutting down, or worse yet, giving the problem up altogether by passing ownership to the helper, who “knows more.” Schein calls this a disequilibrium in the relationship.
Thus, the interaction that ensues at the very beginning of a helping relationship is incredibly important. A wrong move by the helper can easily derail it, with usually unintended consequences for the relationship and worse yet, the performance of the organization in which they work.
I encourage all of us to practice deep reflection regularly around our own behaviors – not an easy task, but one that can be made easier by embedding it in our standard work and learning from teachers like Schein and Lencioni, among others. In collaboration with Karl Hoover, at Catalysis we have also defined a set of traits and supporting behaviors for leaders to assess themselves and use as input to their personal development A3s. If you are interested in learning more, follow this link.
As Jake Raymer explains, we, the leaders, set the climate for everyone else in the organization. How we behave has consequences well beyond our immediate circle. We need to own up to this responsibility.
Book: Humble Inquiry
Workshop: Building Blocks of Enterprise Excellence