The Promise and Challenges of Leaders Helping Their Subordinates

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The Promise and Challenges of Leaders Helping Their Subordinates
The Promise and Challenges of Leaders Helping Their Subordinates

Managers often see employees struggling with their work and want to help. However, too many managers are clueless about how to help without being seen as a micromanager. Recent research shows that how and when leaders get involved in their subordinates’ work really matters, and that getting this wrong can be more harmful than not helping at all. If you are a manager who wants to give effective hands-on help, practice three key principles: (1) time your help so it comes when people are ready for it, (2) clarify that your role is to be a helper, and (3) align the rhythm of your involvement – its intensity and frequency – with people’s specific needs.


Colin M. Fisher is a scholar, author, and teacher of team leadership, creativity, and improvisation. As an Associate Professor of Organisations and Innovation at University College London, he teaches executives, graduate students, and undergraduates about leading teams that foster creativity, learning, and effective decision-making.

Colin’s research deals with leading, helping, and coaching teams and individuals in situations requiring collective creativity, improvisation, and effective decision-making, with a focus on how temporal issues (e.g., timing, rhythm, development over time) shape group processes and outcomes. His research has been published in leading journals, such as Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Perspectives, Academy of Management Review, Harvard Business Review, Negotiation Journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Organizational Dynamics, and Small Group Research, as well as in several edited book chapters. He serves on the editorial boards of Small Group Research and Psychology of Creativity, Aesthetics and the Arts, as well as on the Scientific Advisory Council for the Institute of Coaching. Previously, Colin served as an Assistant Professor and Peter Paul Career Development Professor at Boston University’s School of Management.

Colin received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and M.A. in Social Psychology from Harvard University/Harvard Business School. He also studied improvisation in the arts at New York University (M.A.) and jazz trumpet at New England Conservatory of Music (B.Mus.). In his work as a professional jazz trumpet player, Colin was a long-time member of the Grammy-nominated Either/Orchestra, with whom he toured the U.S., Europe, and Africa and recorded several critically acclaimed albums.

Jeffrey Hull, Ph.D. is an author, educator and consultant with over twenty years experience partnering with C-suite executives on issues of high performance leadership, change management, organizational strategy, structure and culture. Dr. Hull is a highly sought-after facilitator, keynote speaker and executive coach to both non-profit and for-profit global organizations. The CEO of Leadershift, Inc. a management consultancy based in New York City, Dr. Hull is also a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, and an adjunct professor of leadership at New York University.

Dr. Hull is a highly accomplished executive coach, organization effectiveness, leadership development, and human resource management professional. An expert in the field of organizational and leadership development since 1995, he has worked with leading multi-national companies in the US, Asia, and Europe, both as a senior management team member and as a consultant. He has worked on projects with Fortune 100, start-up and non-profit organizations in a wide range of industries, including legal services, health care, financial services, technology, advertising and education.

Jeffrey's latest book: Flex: The Art and Science of Leadership in a Changing World is available for purchase now.

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