Laurie has mid-level responsibilities in an IT firm. It’s fast-paced, the firm is growing fast, new faces keep showing up every week, and an underlying sense of organised chaos permeates the whole firm of about 200 people.
He’s one of the more experienced team members. So you won’t be surprised to hear that newer staff tend to use him as a resource.
‘Laurie, what do you think about this issue?’
‘Hey buddy, can you give me a hand with this?’
‘I’d love to have your input in the meeting on Project X.’
He likes to help and support people, there’s a team ethos of collegiality, and a great ‘can do’ attitude in the firm. All good, you might think.
However, Laurie is under pressure to perform better. His department head feels he’s not getting across enough work. And he’s frustrated because it seems he’s never quite on top of things.
Problem is, he’s encouraging laziness. He’s also slowing down the opportunities for people to grow in abilities or responsibilities.
He’s walking down the corridor when Susie approaches. ‘Just the person I want to see, Laurie. I’m really stuck with ….’
Laurie sighs inwardly, but listens helpfully. He thinks that being supportive is part of his role as a team leader. As soon as he says ‘Leave it with me’ the problem transfers – and Susie goes back to her desk free of her burden. A few more conversations like that in a day and you can easily see why Laurie is working longer and longer hours yet feeling less and less effective.
Solution: Don’t be too quick to take on other people’s work. Instead, ask good questions and educate your team to come with solutions, not just questions. Your goal as a manager, business owner or more senior person is to help people learn the ropes and take responsibility for their own portfolios.
Families: The same issue can apply with our families as well. I have a beloved elderly aunt who has just moved house. She’s as sharp as a tack mentally but has slowed down physically. A few weeks before her move she called. Plaintively she said, ‘I can’t get a local carrier. They’re all booked.’
‘Have you called further afield?’
‘No. I wanted a local one.’
She just wanted the problem taken away. Clearly she wanted me to either change my date or ring around for other carriers for her. She has all the time in the world. I, on the other hand, have to manage my time very carefully to fit in quality time with her, my very large family of children and the seventeen grandchildren they’ve blessed me with, many friends, my sports and other interests, let alone work commitments.
So I had to practice a small level of tough love.
‘But that’s the only day I can help you, I’m sorry. And isn’t that the day you’ve already organised to move?’
‘Well, I guess you’ll have to ring some more carriers. You’ve got a phone book, haven’t you?’ (She doesn’t have internet.)
She rang back an hour later to say she’d booked a truck.
I’ve deliberately suggested laziness in the title of this article – for shock value. I don’t believe many people are deliberately being lazy. However, almost everyone is wired to find the easiest way to do something.
If we constantly step in and rescue people, whether it be at work or at home, they begin to rely on us. Over time that becomes a habit. Quite unintentionally we lower their resilience and independence; unless they’re very self-aware they allow their confidence in their own abilities or judgement to be eroded without even noticing the impact.
And even if we don’t mind the first few times, eventually we begin to resent the imposition. Bad results all round.
A version of this article also appears in Robyn’s regular NZ Herald Online column