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Being Helpful – Graciously

| March 9, 2005

by Jim Bruce

I’ve attached another very helpful note authored by John Baldoni about

how leaders can be helpful, graciously.


I think that you will find the comments useful…………….jim


Being Helpful — Graciously

BY : John Baldoni


Lessons in the management art that goes one step beyond. One of Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite things to do during t    he dark days of World War II, as well as throughout his tenure in the White House, was to make cocktails forhis guests. As Jon Meacham tells us in Franklin and Winston, a biography of the friendship between FDR andChurchill, Roosevelt would wheel into the room full of guests and quickly make himself busy mixing drinks. It was a time for levity amidseriousness but for FDR, confined to a wheelchair by polio, it was the only time of day when he was physically able to serve others. His gracious hospitality was evident in his smile and jocularity, both calculated to put others at ease. This simple act of mixing drinks was FDR’s way of connecting with people on a personal level, apart from the woeful cares of state.

The Power of Helping

“How can I help you?” may be one of the most powerful combinations of words in the English language, yet today we find them so overused that they have lost some of their impact. That is a shame because the willingness to serve others lies at the very heart of leadership. I belong to a network of consultants that asks its membership to ask what each can do for the other. Fraternal organizations make use of the same principle. To an outsider the practice may seem trite, but if you are on the receiving end of the question, it may be something that can lead to a professional introduction, a new insight into a vexing problem or a door opened to a new line of business. Managers can leverage this mantra, too. Since we live in an age when management is more about enabling others than administrating details, managers who ask their people how they can help them are not being meddlesome. They are being savvy.

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When you add a touch of graciousness — that is, genuine courtesy and respect — you not only open minds of your people, you open their spirits. And that can lead to some powerful results.

Here’s what you can to encourage it.

Set expectations for involvement. When managers set expectations for their people, both one-on-one and for the team, they should define their own role. They should make it explicit that they expect to be a resource, which will vary from team to team. For a marketing group, being a management resource may mean liaising with senior leadership to make certain that there is enough funding for a product launch. For an engineering team, being a resource can be an extra pair of hands,someone who can pitch in with project management or whatever needs to be done to get the work flow optimized. When you set the expectations up front, people know that you are available. Know your limits. Being available does not mean hovering. Managers who meddle suck the oxygen out of a project so that people cannot function. None of us likes to look over our shoulder, but if we have a manager who is always there, we feel compelled to second-guess ourselves. That’s a time waster, as well as an inhibitor to initiative and creativity. Not only does such cautious watchfulness harm productivity, it hinders personal growth for employees and managers. When this occurs, help becomes meddlesome and all sense of graciousness goes by the wayside.

Demand the right example. Organizations that pride themselves on customer service demonstrate how helpfulness is contagious. Nordstrom has pioneered outstanding customer care in retail. RitzCarlton demonstrates what it means in hospitality, and Southwest Airlines shows that courtesy can exist at 35,000 feet. Marriott, the parent company of RitzCarlton, also practices what it preaches internally. From training to career development, Marriott works to ensure that all of its people have what they need to do their jobs as well as opportunities for better compensation and advancement, not simply for managers but for all service personnel. Do it with a smile. Like children, employees know when your actions lack sincerity.

When you offer help, act like you mean it. Being gracious is a way to connect to your people on a human level. What’s more, common sense will tell you that managers who demonstrate sincerity get more in return. They get genuine commitment rather than pro forma compliance. All of us want to work for people who care. We want recognition for our work, not simply after we do it, but before we begin. If we know our manager is counting on us, we will perform. And we will go the extra mile.

Holding Firm

Graciousness is not the same as being soft. Few would accuse FDR of lacking resolve or shirking from challenges. He faced down murderous dictators just as he stared down his own physical infirmities. Roosevelt, like so many who have overcome adversity, embody the adage that what does not destroy you will make you stronger. But through it all, he never lost his willingness to do for others. As Roosevelt’s biographer Geoffrey C. Ward tells us, this attitude was most evident at Warm Springs, the resort for polio victims he bought in the ’20s and, for a period ,actively ran, so much so that he conducted exercise classes, provided physical therapy and of course served as a beacon of optimism for fellow sufferers. Many managers feel that if they show civility in the workplace, it sends the wrong signal. They feel they will be taken advantage of, so they put up a tough

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Such behavior is learned; their bosses did it to them so they feel they must give it back. Well, such behavior can be unlearned, too. Recall the Jewish proverb: “Don’t open a shop unless you know how to smile.” American Airlines, a legacy carrier with a heritage of labor management woes, is trying to reverse course. CEO Gerard Arpey is listening to his people and actively implementing their ideas. He is demonstrating a sense of graciousness about what it means to be a manager. His example, if nurtured properly, can foster a new outlook on manager-employee relations. Managers who put themselves out for their people are most often managers who get results. By demonstrating the willingness to help, they facilitate the workflow. They provide encouragement as well as insight, and in the long run they make things easier for their people but most often for themselves. By enabling others to get the work done, they free themselves to focus on what comes next. They may even buy time to think of how to do things better with fewer steps, something that not only saves labor, but time and expense. And when that happens, they are restoring full power to those five words, “how may I help you?”

John Baldoni is a leadership communications consultant who works with Fortune 500 companies as well as non-profits including the University of Michigan. He is a frequent keynote and workshop speaker as well as the author of five books on leadership; the latest is Great Motivation Secrets of Great Leaders (McGraw-Hill). Readers are welcome to visit his

leadership resource website at