In over ten years of experience, I’m pretty sure nobody asked me this question (at least not very often). And it’s the one I most fervently wish I’d been asked.
I wanted my leaders to ask me this question because it would have made me feel like part of the team. It would have given me permission to offer feedback and express what I needed — professionally and personally. I would have perceived it as a selfless gesture, which is often difficult to find in a workplace when most people are trying to prove their value. But above all, it would have exemplified the deeper meaning of why we work — to earn a living, to contribute, and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, with the goal of success in mind.
If we agree with the benefits and positive outcomes of this question, then we must ask why? Why is it that a question that is so easy to ask and that has the potential for such powerful impact, is so seldom offered?
I imagine the reasons are manyfold, and I’m not going to pretend or suggest that we should narrow it down to an overarching few.
But at the heart of it all, this is not about ease and this is not a surface-level question. It goes much deeper than that because in its sincerest form, the offer to help and be of service to another is challenging and quite personal. At its heart, this question is an offer to be of service to another person. And that’s not an easy thing to do.
Think about it for a second. What makes it hard to ask this question to your team? What may be at risk to you?
- You’re inviting feedback. Which will hopefully be well-received, but has the potential to not be. What would you do then? What if you offer to help and then don’t like what you hear?
- You may have to act…and you can’t or don’t want to. If you are being sincere and your teammate gives you a specific answer, you might be expected to deliver on it. i.e. “I need to work from home four hours a week, so I have some time for space and deep work.” But what if you can’t or don’t want to deliver? Where does that leave you?
- You are acting in service to another. This might the most challenging of the three, because to ask this question and deliver on it, you need to believe in the concept of “serving others” in the first place. If not, then it would be difficult to ask it, and mean it. Others are meant to serve me is diametrically opposed to how can I best serve others.
All of these reasons are important and even understandable to a large degree. But it’s important to understand our reasons for asking or not asking this question.
In other words, what can I do to help you be successful is probably not avoided intentionally. But because it ties back to beliefs, fears, values, and the reality of the organization (what am I actually capable of doing), it makes it difficult to articulate it and mean it.
But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t challenge ourselves to do so anyway.
If we believe that asking this question will benefit our teams…that if we expressed this gesture and meant it, performance would ultimately increase and outcomes would improve for the organization…then we need to take a deeper look inside as to what stops us from asking it.
When we sign up to spend more than 1/3 of our waking hours together each week at work, we owe it to our teams and ultimately ourselves to explore what we can do to help each other become successful.