When to say yes and when to say no

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Who’s your boss?

Your boss is anyone who assigns you work. That includes the person the org chart says is supposed to assign you work.

But, as pointed out last week, it also includes anyone you let shift work from their inbox to yours. That can double your workload while cutting theirs in half, which is why I suggested specific techniques for keeping their work assignments where they belong.

However (you knew the “however fairy” was hovering between you and the screen, didn’t you?) … however, I say, take this too far and you can damage or entirely destroy the sense of teamwork that’s essential to effectively getting things done.

After all, teammates are supposed to support each other, helping out their colleagues when their colleagues get stuck.

How to tell the difference between when you should help and when you should say no?

If you’re on the asking end: It’s time for a hard look in the mirror. Ask yourself if the help you’re asking for is to share skills and knowledge, or you’re asking for someone to do your work for you.

While you’re looking in the mirror, ask yourself if asking for help is a one-time exception, or has it become a habit.

If it’s become a habit it’s time to break it.

Unless, that is, you aspire to management and have enough of a Machiavellian streak that you don’t mind taking advantage of your teammates. If so (and understand, I’m not encouraging this), asking for and getting help is a way to make it look like your colleague is “just” a technician, as you position yourself as the one who knows how to think and act like a manager.

Oh, and if you decide that’s a good career move, make sure your confidence in your manager’s gullibility is warranted.

If you’re on the receiving end: To some extent this is the asking-for-help side of the equation only backward. That is, sharing your knowledge and skills is providing help and support, while sharing your time and effort to do a colleague’s work is letting someone advantage of you.

But there’s another piece to the puzzle as well: A trap that’s easy to fall into is enjoying the ego gratification that comes from showing off what you can do to someone else who doesn’t know how.

There’s nothing wrong with this, assuming, that (1) you have the time, (2) you don’t mind your colleague getting the credit for your skills, knowledge, and work, and (3) you’re happy to be branded as a technician, with all the career consequences it implies.

Bob’s last word: It’s a variation on an old and trite, but still true saying: Give someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day. Then they’ll ask you for another fish tomorrow, and the day after that, too.

Bob’s sales pitch: Just in case you weren’t sure about this, yes, I’d be delighted to keynote your event. You read KJR on a regular basis, so by now you have a good idea of the subjects I’d be delighted to keynote about. Here’s where to get in touch: Contact – IS Survivor Publishing .

Now showing on CIO.com’s CIO Survival Guide: “XaaS isn’t everything – and it isn’t serviceable.” It’s about how “everything as a service” doesn’t include everything, and in fact it doesn’t include lots of important things. And no, I don’t know when “X” came to mean “everything” either.

Comments (6)

  • Bob, What do you think about the scenario where team members make suggestions about how to improve something (process, tool, communication, etc.) but expect others to implement their suggestion? Unless the suggestion squarely falls into another team member’s existing work, deliverable, or expertise, and they have time to implement it, I often ask the suggester whether they can lead or at least help implement their suggestion. I figure this gives them to opportunity to reflect on the value of their suggestion, i.e., if it isn’t worth their time, why is it worth others’ time? Recently such a suggester responded, “When you ask me if I’ll take on implementing my suggestion it makes me not want to suggest things.” What do you think?

    • What do I think about this? I think the victim should start to wear a “What did I say that sounded like ‘Please share your opinion'” t-shirt.

      This isn’t entirely fair, of course. Someone who’s in a position to observe a process is, sometimes, in a better position to spot improvement opportunities. But as they have no stake in whether they’re right or not, and probably lack a deep understanding of why things are the way they are, the suggestion should be presented with humility and diplomacy: “Hey, I noticed something, and I’m curious …” is a whole lot better than “I have an idea about how you can improve your process.”

  • On the old give a man a fish story, perhaps you should ask yourself if the new dam or oil well, changes in weather, etc you helped install or create is perhaps destroying the old supply of fish there were getting fish from. I have worked with a lot of people in villages in the past and I found them extremely smart hard working people. They do tend to be conservative in taking up new ideas since they realize that the new “expert” is not the person who will be hungry if something goes wrong.

  • I worked with a whole bunch of folks who couldn’t (and wouldn’t even try to) do their jobs. And I was the one who got in trouble for not helping. SHEESH! Can you say dysfunctional? I’m glad I retired.

    I believe it is a fact that skill sets have diminished over time, especially in the computer field. This lack of skills leads to everyone dumping on the few who know how to do things. Sure, everyone is a spread sheet expert, but where are ones who can code on the (almost) bare metal?

    • This is just a guess, but it’s that the number of bare-metal programmers needed in the world has been constant. It’s their work that has exploded the number of opportunities for regular, just-folks developers by cloaking the bare metal in easier-to-use development environments. The skills these just-folks developers need are different from what bare-metal programmers need. Not lesser, just different.

      Just my 2 cents … maybe a nickel once adjusted for inflation.

      • I agree in part, Bob, and I understand your point. But I was referring to folks who claimed to be programmers.

        Hey, I’d send you the nickel but postage just went up again and you would owe me 55 cents. 🙂

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