“Don’t be helpful”

People ManagementCIPD's People Management magazineIt seems counter-intuitive advice to me as someone who believes positive relationships are the way to do business. But there is some curious research reported in People Management magazine this week, see here, that suggests its best simply to not to help others. Research conducted by Michigan State University suggests that being proactively helpful can actually negatively affect someone’s confidence, sense of autonomy and motivation. Much better impact is reactive help – only giving help when asked for.

It struck me that appreciating the value of situational leadership is essential to managers navigating the right balance between directive help and space creating coaching in any given situation with a direct report. To simply wait for someone who is struggling to ask for help could create all sorts of obvious risks to their wellbeing and performance. The underlying message of this research to me is to have a constructive conversation with someone about their feeling of confidence and competence around a significant task. If they feel they want autonomy, then great, only offer help when asked. If they feel they need more direction, then you are more likely to have their permission to offer some proactive help.

So much is situational, eh?