Helping others, help themselves

I’m going to cover some management/leadership/mentoring items in today’s post. There are two statements that I have learned from two of my previous bosses that have continued to stick with me that I’m going to share today. One is “What does the book say?” and the other is “Don’t feed the ducks”.

“What does the book say?”
I really like this statement. As a leader it’s important to teach people how to do things for themselves as well as teaching them in a manner that helps them really learn a subject. The saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I look at the “What does the book say?” statement as having the same meaning as teaching a man to fish. To help someone learn you need to guide them to the answers and not give them the answers. If you can teach or better yet lead someone to the answer rather then just giving them the answer you are making that person much stronger and more knowledgeable. It forces a person to put in the work to find the answer themselves. During the search for the answer, the person will be learning about the topic while trying to find the answer they seek. That information will stick with the person much longer than if the answer was just given to them. The person will also be gaining valuable self esteem because it is much more gratifying to say, I put in the work and came up with the answer myself versus, I was given that answer by so and so who knows much more than I do on this subject. Next time you are thinking about asking someone for an answer you are seeking I recommend thinking twice about doing that and instead doing the necessary work to try to come up with the answer yourself. If you put in the work but still can’t find the answer then seek out someone that can get you the answer you are looking for. When you do, you will be able to have a great discussion on where they got the answer, the places or methods you used to try to get the answer, why you failed, and you will also understand the answer because you have done the research to try to find the answer.

“Don’t feed the ducks”
“Don’t Feed The Ducks”, what the heck does that mean? Let me first start by giving you some background on how I was introduced to this phrase. When I was an IT Support Analyst, I was in the position of not only developing and creating products but I was also on a team that provided the last line of support for many intranet applications. During this time, I helped many people solve their problems and when you do that people inherently want to contact you the next time they have a problem that needs solving. As I helped more and more people I would get many people contacting me directly instead of going through the normal support procedures. I, being the nice guy that I am, continued to help the people that contacted me directly until it started to affect my daily job functions. My boss at the time got wind of all the direct contacts I was receiving and called me to her office. This is where I was first introduced to the phrase “Don’t Feed The Ducks”. The gist of the phrase is just what you would expect. If you have ever had the unfortunate chance to feed ducks then you will know exactly what this phrase means. For those of you that haven’t, it works like this; when you feed a duck it will follow the food. So if you continue to feed the duck it will continue to come back for more and more and more until the duck realizes you have no food left. While it feels good to help people out, the more you help them the more they will continue to come back to you for help and answers. If you continue to feed them the answers and help them do their work for them they will continue to come back to you. This will in turn cause you to not get your work done. A better way to handle a situation in which someone comes to you for help is to help that person help themselves by using the phrase I covered above “what does the book say”. Now, I don’t suggest you not help people rather help them find the answers they are looking for instead of giving them the answer. You might think that you have to answer or help everyone out every time they need you but it will really affect your ability to do your job and it certainly doesn’t help others learn anything.

Hopefully these two statements will help someone else out as much as they have helped me out over the years. After all, in order to create a better society it’s better to educate then to do everything yourself.

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