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Helping Hands vs. Handouts

Helping Hands and Handouts are differentiated by who's doing what percentage of the work, as well as the desired outcome of the interaction. Most high achievers I know are looking for a helping hand. They have the mentality that you can point them in the right direction and they'll make the most of their resources. They enjoy the drive to learn and earn all they receive. Most people looking for handouts are looking for the easy way. They usually want to know what corners can I cut to get to the same outcome. It can be disguised as looking more efficient, "why reinvent the wheel, you've already done the work", or disguised as noble, "I would like this handout on behalf of other people". In short, handouts are quick answers, while helping hands are long term solutions.

The Helping Hand

A helping hand is needed when you lack the knowledge, skills, or abilities to perform at your desired level. This can be a technical element of your current job, or attributes to succeed at the next. You may or may not know exactly what you need, but understand the probability of going it alone and succeeding is low. This is often when you engage peers, managers, mentors or coaches. Your questions tend to be targeted and developmental in nature. It's less about checking boxes and more about filling holes in your capabilities. Your expectations when receiving a helping hand is that you should be doing a majority of the lifting. You should be looking to do the work, because it's within that work that you learn. You cannot develop a skill or ability by reading about it. You can develop knowledge and awareness, but those seeking a helping hand are usually looking for more.

The Handout

Often times handouts are created with the best intentions. Usually it's people wanting to make life easier for the next person. I get it. Too often what gets removed from a handout is the work required to truly gain the capabilites. Handouts create a curated experience of the lessons you would have learned receiving a helping hand, but through the eyes and mind of someone else. Those who create the handout are doing almost all of the heavy lifting, and the receiver is attempting to still reap the same reward. That's not how that works.

The most dangerous part of a handout is the entitlement it can create in its end users. Once you raise the bar of expectations, that bar becomes the new baseline of minimum expectations. That's not necessarily a bad thing, depending on the situation, but it does start to develop a dependance on handouts. This doesn't help in your quest to build strong teams, open think, or idea sharing. It is a great way to retain mid to low level performers, while extinguishing the spark of your top performers.

A helping hand is more about teaching someone to fish. Telling them about why we fish instead of hunt, and explaining some of the best practices for catching fish. Using this same analogy, a handout is serving them some grilled salmon. Where it came from doesn't matter. How it was caught doesn't matter. Why we chose salmon over cod doesn't matter. They asked for fish, and you gave them fish.

In our efforts to shorten training timelines, get people up to speed quicker, and meet peoples unrealistic promotion goals, we're defaulting to handouts too often and it's becoming an expectation. People are demanding handouts when what they need are helping hands. They need to understand the why. They need to be given the chance to discover and come to their own conclusions.

I ask two things of you this week:

  1. If you notice yourself receiving a handout take a moment to understand the process the person giving you the handout went through to create it. What experiences does this hand out sum up? This could be an onboarding presentation to a new company or a hot key cheat sheet for a new software. I'm not saying turn down handouts, but approach them with added curiosity about their origin story.

  2. When someone seeks knowledge you possess, consider giving them a helping hand instead of a handout. Helping hands take more time, are more intentional and may not be welcome. They may just want an answer and to move on. You're doing no one a favor by creating a handout and having them accept it at surface value.

It doesn't matter if you work at a consulting firm, grocery store, marketing agency or fast food chain. If you're trying to make the people around you successful you do it through helping hands. You do it through guidance, mentorship and with a growth mindset. A culture of entitlement is toxic, and can be a self inflicted wound. "I should be this….they should give me this…..they're doing this……..give me, give me, give me". Enough. Work hard, help other people be successful through helping hands, understand the why, and stop seeking handouts. You're better than that.

Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer.

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