How Can I Help You?

“How can I help you?” or “What can I do for you?” When was the last time you said that to one of your people and meant it?  And what I mean by “meant it” is when was the last time you didn’t just ask the question but actually acted upon what they then requested?

Recently I happened upon an article written by a UK based consultant, Emmanuel Gobillot, and his comments, within the context of this question, really hit home for me:

“There is a question that comes before what do great leaders do and that is “what is a leader?”

The answer is simple; “someone who is followed.”

This being the case, the most important person in the equation is the follower.

A great leader is someone who manages to have a great many followers, prepared to give up some of their freedom to act, in search of something greater than [that which] they can achieve alone.

When looked at it in that way, forget “what do great leaders do?” The key question becomes “what do great followers want?” With that question we can explain why seemingly different people become great leaders. We no longer have to hope we can be “like somebody” but rather can feel free to explore what we are like when we are at our best.

Development stops being about aping someone else and starts becoming about being a better, more skilled version of ourselves in the service of our followers.

When we make the switch from the “great leaders” to the “great followers” question we no longer need a model of what we ought to be but rather a set of principles that will help us to find out who we truly can be.”

Do you see the power the question “What can I do for you?” is able to create?

By simply offering yourself as a means for that individual to achieve something they might have not been able to do without you, you have created a relationship where your previously reluctant follower  is now able to envision their future within the movement you are attempting to create.

Does it work?  Yes it does.

Michael JordaanLast week, while sitting with Michael Jordaan, CEO of FNB, the power and opportunity this question yields was given a face and a name.

Jordaan shared how he had enjoyed a leadership conversation with Gary Kirsten, the current South African Cricket coach, while they were together in India a while back.  During this conversation, they explored various leadership principles and topics, and one of these was how to get a massive ego to become servant to the team/organisational culture.

Why is Kirsten such a valuable person to have comment on this?  Let’s quickly highlight what he has done in the last few years and who he has been leading.

During his tenure as coach of the Indian cricket team he led them to a number of firsts, including their first bilateral series win in Sri Lanka against Sri Lanka and India’s first One-Day International series victory against New Zealand in New Zealand after 40 years.  They also won a number of trophies and cups, culminating in the winning of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup.

Players (and egos) he was tasked with managing during those years included the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Virender Sewag, Harbhajan Singh, and others who are practically worshipped by the Indian cricket fraternity.

After leaving India, he took the job of South African Cricket coach.  Here he has taken the Test Match team to No. 1 in the world and has had to deal with the likes of Graham Smith, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn, Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers and others widely regarded as cricketing superstars.

How has he done this?  He told Jordaan that the first thing he said to Sachin Tendulkar when he sat with him was:  “What would you like me as a coach to do for you?”

Kirsten recognized that the most important element in his leadership equation were his followers, and the only way to circumvent the egos that may have been in play was to offer himself as being there to serve them.  He was, in effect, the boss.  He could have shouted and thrown things around.  But he instead chose to go to where the players were and walk with them individually and collectively.

There is one other aspect we need to consider when asking this kind of question, and it is “intent”.

Small gary kirstenKirsten had no hidden agenda for offering himself this way.  As the coach of the Indian and then South African cricket team, he wanted to take them to the top, he wanted to win.  The players wanted the same thing and when they saw and felt that their coach was authentic and genuine, they responded.

If you as a leader attempt to use such an approach and question as a purely strategic exercise, please prepare yourself for long term failure.  You may see short term results, but people will quickly see through your façade and you will find yourself in deep trouble.  Leaders need followers, and a sure way to alienate your followers is to not be honest and genuine about why you are doing something.

Does this mean you can’t use this approach to take your sales, production, or other figures through their current ceiling?  Of course not, but make sure you communicate the reason.

A few weeks ago, Leadership Platform sat with Gary Kirsten and one of the biggest things that came out of that discussion was how hard Kirsten works on himself.  He sees and knows the value of self-development and understands how effective leaders are those who assist their teams/organizations to develop.

Michael Jordaan said it this way:  “So often in life you have to invert things – and leaders for example should always think “who is the type of person you would voluntarily submit to?” Because that’s what you do, you submit to someone who is in authority.  You’re not forced to work anywhere – so where would you voluntarily do it?  And often when you think of that – you can think of it now: who would you happily work for – it is probably someone who has your best interests at heart and wants you to do well?  So if you can demonstrate that to people – that you actually want them to do well, you want them to grow, that you actually care for them, if you grow people, if you make people successful, the results will take care of themselves.  This is my fundamental belief.   You surround yourself with better people and you set them up for success.”

This article was featured in the


Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Founder of Future CEOs™ and co-host of the Future CEOs™ show on, Gareth seeks to empower high potential young executives and ambitious entrepreneurs as they push for CEO status.

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