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Save Time (And Effort) By Empowering Others

Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. [Proverbs 9:9]

Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. (Proverbs 9:9)

Those of us with a strong need to please (or to be in control) often are bogged down by people who seemingly depend on us to get anything done.

A dear relative, who somehow thinks I have amazing Internet powers, used to email me: “Please search XYZ on the Web and let me know what you find. And, by the way, I need that by 3 p.m. today.”

Despite the fact that she had Internet access (and even used that access to email me her requests), she just thought I could do a better job, faster. And so I did. I searched for product specifications and prices. I searched for sources for her Masters thesis. I even searched for good vendors in her hometown, even though I live a gazillion miles away.

Meanwhile, something similar happened at work. A “technology-challenged” co-worker often bypassed our company’s IT support and came to me for help each time her computer crashed or a program wouldn’t respond as expected. Eager to please, I’d walk over to her cubicle and troubleshoot with her.

When helping = hurting

Then one day it hit me that all that “helping” on my part was actually hurting everyone involved. It consistently sucked up big chunks of time and energy, hindered my other commitments and kept my relative and co-worker dependent on me to complete their projects.

I realized the best thing, both for them and me, would be to (1) teach them how to execute those tasks on their own, and (2) begin gently saying “no” to their requests so they would no longer be dependent on my assistance and availability. (As the saying goes, “Teach a man how to fish and you’ll feed him for life,” right?)

How to double someone’s IQ (and free up your time)

You may have heard of Tim Ferris, best-selling author of the The 4-Hour Work Week. While I don’t subscribe to all of Ferris’ advice, he does have some good points: “It’s amazing how someone’s IQ seems to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.” After equipping his team to make decisions, he says, “[they] now know that I don’t respond to emergencies, so the emergencies somehow don’t exist or don’t come to me.”

Now it’s your turn: Banish those time suckers

What problems can you eliminate today by removing yourself as an information bottleneck and empowering others?

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5 Responses

  1. Andrea

    Another great post. Your comment about ‘hurting’ others by ‘helping’ them especially hit home.

    For me, frankly, its about control. I am helping them because i want to control their output and control the outcome.

    Shame on me!

    Thank you for the kick…

  2. Wow I never thought of it that way, but you are correct in that it does hurt when we don’t show someone how to do something.

  3. Hi, David and Mel,

    I love it that you took the time to read and comment, thank you!

    Another example of the whole “hurting by helping” thing: I have two younger sisters and I used to always be stressed out about their well being. Then one day when I was having a meltdown (because I was so worried they’d mess up on something and so drained by all the worrying), my mother pointed out that the reason my sisters did a lousy job of taking care of themselves was because I did that for them.

    She advised me to let them grow up and make their own mistakes. So I stopped “helping” so much and they did rise up to the challenge of running their own lives successfully.

    Thanks again; have a great weekend!


  4. Andrea,

    I’m slowly learning to ask why I help in these situations in the first place. Personally, it’s affirming to be needed. Even if my service furthers their helplessness and incompetence, my need for affirmation is greater.

    What’s tricky is that I spend a lot of time critiquing, which means folks call or e-mail asking for my help in the form of feedback. I don’t always know when I’m really needed and when I need to say, “You can do this; you don’t need my help.”

  5. Sam, I know what you mean… Actually, my motivation for helping these folks become more independent wasn’t solely because it was the best move for them. I needed some room to breathe! We can’t fulfill our own commitments with excellence if we allow people to pull us all over the place and distract us from our focus. The interruptions were killing me and I just had to put some boundaries in place and start saying “no”…

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