Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash


It seems very odd to be writing from a business context about helplessness. We are given to believe that being in business is about strength and power, making big decisions and taking risks. This all comes from a perspective of being independent, not reliant on anyone. I know I have felt this in business, and I know that from this pedestal comes the feeling of loneliness.
I was struck down a few years ago with a painful lung infection, and for the first time in my life I had no alternative but to stay in hospital. For once in my life I was not in charge. I was helpless. Even getting to the shower was a mission bringing on a bout of breathlessness.
It would have been so easy to wallow in my misery. But that did not happen. I knew that I was in the right place to be fixed up, and I must say that the staff at the JR hospital in Oxford were amazing…..not just good at their job, but amazing. They were professional as well as kindly, caring and compassionate…all of them. There seemed to be a team spirit of respect for each other, and focus on the patients. Now this may have always been the case, I don’t know, but it was not what I expected….so often we only hear bad news stories. This to me is a sign of good management.
So I chose not to wallow, but to go with the process, and try to learn from it. And I learned about being helpless. For once in my life nobody was dependent on me, and I was dependent on numerous people. I had to trust strangers, and not seek to control them, and they did the best they could for me, a stranger. Strip out the fact that this is their job, because this was done with a kindness that transcends a mere job.
And it seemed to me that people have the capacity to respond to your failings if only you are prepared to admit to them. Helplessness and vulnerability are cousins. When you openly communicate from a place of vulnerability, not knowing the answers, from uncertainty or anxiety, then your colleagues are able to rally round and support you.
So often our employees want us to be the strong character who can lead them and tell them what to do. They put us on a pedestal, and make it so that they become dependent on us. They foist upon us a sense of responsibility for them, and a catcher of all dropped balls. What if they knew that deep down business owners all desire the support of their teams – they want others to shoulder some of the responsibility, to share the burden.
At the end of our lives we all become helpless. So why not accept that now and share out the responsibility and authority amongst our colleagues. Communicate our vulnerabilities to open up truthful, open-minded conversations within your teams, so that collaboration takes on a new flavour for all, and team spirit can flourish.

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