How Often Do You Hear “How Can I Help You?” From Your Manager?


I was going through some old notes I've taken when visiting different hospitals and I came up with this quote from a healthcare professional:

“I've never worked in a place where managers asked ‘how can I help you?'”

The good news was that this comment was prompted by the fact that things were starting to change with the introduction of Lean management principles. The sad thing is that when I tweeted that comment, I got a few responses that said “neither have I.”

The “servant leadership” model of Lean is also found in other methodologies, such as the hospital leadership model of The Studer Group and the books of Quint Studer.

How often do your leaders legitimately ask you what they can do to help you do you job?  Do they ask what you truly need to provide the best patient care? Are they responsive to your requests and suggestions?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I heard that from only one manager out of the dozen or so that I have had over the years. He was the best manager I ever reported to, and it was also during the time we were learning Lean from Shingijutsu consultants (mid-1990s). I learned from him to say “How can I help you,” and “What can I do to make your job easier.” So I consistently said these things as a manager, and I also followed through to help and make people’s job easier – just as he did. He was a great role model.

  2. Interesting difference in the mental models of Leaders between; “Do as I say” and “How can I help” which is much more of a “Leader as a Teacher” model.
    My own experience is that although people don’t like command & control, that’s the mental model they default to. True lean leaders know the difference and work hard at servant leadership.

  3. Here’s a link to a piece that monetizes the engagement/disengagement question at the heart of this to the tune of $300 billion. It is well worth the time to read it:

    NYTimes Sunday Review.

    It also echos the messages of Daniel Pink that you’ve shared here and on the podcast: Give your people autonomy and support them with resources and by removing obstacles to their achievement.

    Next step: Act on their requests!

  4. In my morning Scrum stand ups, I often hear my producer (equivalent of a project manager) ask if there’s anything he can do to help us hit our goals for the day — removing of blockers.

    But, at the management level, even if my manager said, “How can I help you?” I would write him off. I have engaged in various conversations about what he can do to help me be happier at the company and he has on every single occasion failed me. I’ve had to skip over him on several occasions and talk to his manager, or go horizontally, and those have proved slightly better solutions.

    Ah, hierarchies.


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