When Is Helping Not Helpful?
This subject has been kicking around in my head for a little while now, and I’m finally tackling it this week.
I’ve been seeing more and more things I could add, so I’m curious to see how this turns out. Let’s go.
It Feels Good to Help
Let’s start with the fact that most people feel good about themselves when they can help someone else.
Sometimes it’s completely altruistic, sometimes it’s more about being “one-up” on others.
It may stoke our superiority complex, or make us flash back to the parental approval we got for helping, when we were kids.
The point is, helping is something many of us do instinctively, it makes us feel good about ourselves, and that makes it a great win-win.
So What’s the Problem?
If you’re a parent, you’ve surely experienced situations where “over-helping” eventually had its downside.
If I continued to tie my kids’ shoes because that’s how I can help them, they’ll never learn to do it themselves.
Family Business Version
In a family business, the most prevalent version of this phenomenon comes up in the area of employment.
The owner’s child “can’t find a job”, so they’re hired, out of a desire to “help” them.
If you can’t see that this may turn out to be a future lifetime under-performing employee, then you probably aren’t paying enough attention.
Asking for Help
I’ve also written about the fact that family businesses are often reluctant to ask for help from outsiders.
There certainly is no shortage of potential “helpers” out there, especially regarding issues that affect the business.
In fact, getting help with “business” issues versus “family” issues is still a far more common request.
Different Kinds of Help
For many situations, the requested help is pretty clear.
When you need advice with investments, taxes, or legal structures, there are specialists who deal in those things every day, who’ll happily provide you with a solution.
As to whether the help you think you need is actually what’s best for you, that’s another question.
There are plenty of solution providers who’ll “help” you by giving you what you ask for. It’s often done very efficiently, even if it turns out not to be very effective.
What About Help for the Family?
When you move over to the family issues, that’s where things get a bit trickier.
As someone who works this space, I can tell you that the requests are often formulated in the same way.
What I mean here is that “Tell us what we should do!” is a common way of asking for help.
There’s also no shortage of “helpers” out there, that’ll gladly step up and “help” by simply answering that question.
You may be wondering why I’m implying that there’s a problem here.
“For the Family, “By the Family”
Here’s why the “Help me!” request, followed by “OK, here’s the answer” method usually doesn’t do the trick.
I can tell you that when I get “Tell us what to do” it can be pretty difficult to not just simply spew forth my best advice, in the guise of helping.
That’s because I know that the best results for tricky family dynamics situations are always the ones that are co-developed by the family.
The “Process Versus Content” Dilemma
I’ve spent the better part of the past 5 years acquiring and honing the skills necessary to become a better “process” consultant, rather than simply being a “content” expert.
Having come to the family business space by “living it” my whole life, and continuing to study the “content” of “best practices”, it can get tricky.
But I also know that any help that I offer always works best when it is subtle and indirect, especially at first.
Who Are the Real Experts?
When dealing with questions of family dynamics, the real experts on “how the family operates” are the family members themselves, not the outside “expert”.
In fact, if I try to offer too many “helpful solutions” before I have a good feel for this particular family, they’re bound to backfire.
Who Does the Work?
Those asking for help often hope for a “short cut” solution, where the expert provides an easily implementable “quick fix”.
In truth, there are few magic fixes available, and in the end, it’s always the family members who’ll need to do the work, with the helper acting as a more of a “guide”.
And you’ll each tie your own shoes.