Great Bosses Don't Give Up When an Employee Needs Help
BY Jeff Haden
Sometimes the quality of mercy does require strain.
My wife called from the hospital. (Fortunately, in my house, that's not a cause for concern.)
She said, "Can you bring over a pair of your shorts and a T-shirt?" One of her patients had been admitted with a fairly serious condition that resulted in symptoms...let's just say his symptoms made his clothes no longer fit to wear. I wasn't surprised by the nature of the call. My wife worked in Manhattan for a few years and always gave money to people begging on the streets or on the subway.
One time I asked her, "How do you know what they'll do with it?" (I'm still embarrassed to admit I said that.)
"I don't," she said. "It doesn't matter. When someone looks you in the eye and asks you for help, how can you ever say no?"
While her patient didn't ask for help, she could tell he felt extremely self-conscious and uncomfortable in a hospital gown. She also knew by then that he didn't have any family or friends who would bring him other clothes.
I grabbed a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Then I thought about the weather. It was fairly cold, and she said he didn't have a coat, so I stuck a couple of hoodies and a pair of sweats in the bag. Easy: I have too many clothes and would never miss them.
Later, she told me he was so happy he immediately put everything on, including both hoodies.
That felt pretty good.
Another day, I noticed an elderly Mennonite woman leaning heavily on her cane as she shuffled slowly along the side of the road. Later, when I drove back by, she had managed to walk only half a mile or so. There was no sidewalk, and she was clearly struggling on the uneven ground. I turned around, drove back, and pulled over beside her.
"Can I give you a ride?" I asked.
She was bent over her cane so far she was forced to turn her head sideways to look up at me. "No, thank you," she said.
"It's no trouble at all..." I said.
She shook her head.
I understood. Maybe she would only accept a ride in an emergency. Maybe she didn't feel comfortable getting in a stranger's vehicle. I drove slowly away, and as I did I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw her half-stumble before moving slowly forward. I felt bad but decided I had done all I could.
When I got home, I thought about what my wife would have done. If a ride was out of the question, my wife would have parked the truck and offered her arm. If nothing else, she would have walked with the woman. She would have automatically done more, without being asked, simply because doing more is always the right thing to do for someone in need.
I didn't. Sure, I was willing to help, but I only offered what was easy for me to do. Only later did I think about other ways I could have helped.
When we decide to help someone--a friend, a family member, an employee, anyone--it's easy to think about what we want to do, even if we are willing to do a lot. It's a lot harder, and much more important, to think about what that person needs and can accept.
Giving a person, however much in need, some clothes I rarely wore and would never miss? That was easy. For me.
Throwing your employees an encouragement bone once in a while? Saying yes to a request when it doesn't cost you anything? Those things are easy. For you. Helping an employee in the way he or she needs help, especially when doing so is difficult, is not so easy.
I like to think the elderly woman made it safely to wherever she was going.
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden