Being “helpful” is a skill engrained in us as children. Our teachers taught us to be helpful handing out papers, cleaning up the classroom, or lending a hand to our classmates. When we played sports, we learned how to help lift our teammates after they fell or how to help someone learn a new technique. Being helpful in business is just as important, whether internally coaching and mentoring team members or externally building relationships with key stakeholders.

Consider the following when it comes to helpful leadership:

◾Model helpfulness. Just as in grade school, in business, people learn through observing the actions of others. As a leader, it is essential that you cultivate a culture where seeking ways to help your co-workers is not only expected, but required. While some level of healthy competition is needed within any organization, if that competition creates divisiveness, frustration, or anxiety, a team can break down. Rather, if your employees see you proactively helping others at every level of the organization, they will emulate that behavior.

◾Set expectations. When it comes to communication and leadership, vague language such as, “John, I need you to be more helpful to your peers,” is simply not useful. Instead, be specific in your expectations, whether that means setting up a structured mentorship program or convening a lunch or coffee meeting where you bring small groups together and facilitate a discussion around the topic of collaborating as a team and what it means to be helpful. It is your job as a leader to let your team know what is expected of them.

◾Ask questions. As a leader, we often try to guess what is most important to our team. Instead, take the time to set up a 10 to 15-minute meeting with individual team members to touch base and check in. For example, try asking the following question, “What one thing can I do to be more helpful to your growth in the organization?” Be sure to actively listen, agree on next steps and document what was agreed upon with an e-mail so you ensure you heard your team member correctly. Then, follow-up on a consistent basis with your team member to ensure they are on track.

◾Be proactive. When it comes to building relationships, never underestimate the simple act of a phone call or e-mail. Reach out to a client to check in and ask if there is anything you can do to be helpful. Share an article or video you may have seen that you feel would be of interest to someone in your orbit. It is so much more effective to reach out just to be helpful and check in rather than reaching out only when you have a request or because it is time to renew a contract or engagement.

◾Empathize. Too often we get consumed with our own “to do” list or with the ongoing influx of e-mails or never-ending meetings. Because we are so busy, we often miss the signs that someone on our team may be struggling with a project, a family issue, or a health concern. Being a self-aware and empathetic leader allows you to be more in tune with what is going on with the individuals on your team. Actively listen to their needs, offer support in the way of additional team members to assist them with a project or time out of the office to address their personal issues. Being helpful means fostering an environment that promotes a better work / life balance. 

Steve Adubato, PhD, is the author of five books including, "Lessons in Leadership.” His sixth book, "Lessons in Leadership 2.0: The Tough Stuff," will be released in summer 2023. He is an Emmy® Award-winning anchor with programs airing on Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJ PBS. He has also appeared on CNN, NPR and NBC’s Today show. Steve Adubato's "Lessons in Leadership" video podcast with co-host Mary Gamba airs Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on News 12+. For more information visit