It’s easy to talk about what it means to be a great crew-lead, but what most people don’t think about is what makes a good follower or helper. This is really a deep methodology that takes wisdom and purpose to execute so let’s crack it open for a minute.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A HELPER
To follow (as it applies to getting work done) is to HELP and SUPPORT. It does not mean that you just take a back seat while letting someone else carry the burden. It means recognizing the burden the lead has, and helping them execute their responsibilities.
Your job as a helper (even a seasoned non-lead is a helper) is to help make the lead’s job easier. You are there to help carry the load. But interestingly enough, follower-ship is a form of leadership. When you choose to follow, you choose to help that lead be successful in their role. So being a follower is really being a clever leader.
HOW TO EXECUTE THIS ROLE
To be a good helper you need to carry your load well. Your job is to do whatever the lead needs you to, according to your abilities – but sometimes outside of them. Leading as a follower means that you know your job/task needs to be executed well so it relieves the burden from the lead. If you half-ass your share you’re not helping, you’re hurting. So doing a great job on a task takes a load off of everyone else’s shoulders. You sucking, only makes others have to go behind you and re-do your work which means you’re not worth having around. Now there are obviously times where you’re going to make mistakes, but you need to take the time to minimize those instances as much as possible.
This leads me to my next point…ask questions. When a lead gives you a task and you don’t fully understand, DO NOT JUST PRETEND THAT YOU DO. Most of the time you will end up messing it all up and having to re-do everything. Ask as many questions as you need to until you fully understand what you need to do. It may be frustrating for the lead to have to go into that much explaining just to execute a task, but when you remind them you don’t want to mess it up so they have to redo it, many of them will drop the bass in their voice. Also learn how to “time your questions.” There is a definite time and place to rain questions down on someone, but be smart about this. If you have several questions to ask don’t stop the lead several times when they’re trying to get something done. Wait for a good time to stop them and ask all of them. The lead has a lot going on, including making sure everyone around them is doing their jobs correctly, so there are bad times to ask questions. Learn this and it will help the lead out a lot.
Your job as a helper is to ANTICIPATE NEED. Think about those words. The crew around you will always need things. Materials, ladders, tools, a hand, whatever. You need to watch them and anticipate what they may need. There’s a difference though, if you’re a helper who’s independent vs if you’re a fresh helper who’s still in the “gofer” phase of your apprenticeship. When you’re just a gofer, your job is HEAVILY dependent on anticipating need since you don’t know what you’re doing yet. By observing those around you working, you start to understand how to do their jobs. Next you become able to work, and your job is no longer just “waiting” on them. This never really goes away though. Even as a master electrician I anticipate the need of the people working under me. I’m constantly watching what everyone is doing and when I see a problem they’re about to run into (missing material, needing a ladder, needing help lifting something) I’m quick to jump in and give it to them. It’s kind of a fun game to play, really. When you’re really good, a guy can turn around and you have the thing they need in your hand waiting for them while not disrupting what YOU’RE trying to do. It saves them from having to stop what they’re doing so they can keep working just as efficiently. THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A HELPER. Doing what you know is needed to make those around you succeed, while doing what you need to do, to complete your work.
A crew-lead often has a mountain on their shoulders at all times. You don’t realize the pressure and amount of responsibility they have over them at any given time. So being a good follower means grabbing pieces of that mountain and carrying them on your shoulders. Every crew-lead loves to take chunks of that mountain and put them on someone else’s shoulders and know it won’t fall down or crush them. If you can ALL carry a mountain as a team then the lead can step back and observe the mountain without having to carry all of the weight themselves. This is what effective teamwork looks like.
Last thing I’m going to touch on is the “experienced helpers.” If you’re not a lead, but you’ve been a lead or at least been around the block long-enough that you COULD be a lead…act like it. When you watch a lead struggle, don’t undermine them and try to take control of their job. Help them lead. Teach them by supporting them, not by fighting them or bossing them around. You have more power in your role than you’d think, and how you wield it requires wisdom and patience. You can literally make or break their ability to lead. So help guide them if they need it, offer reminders for things you know they’re missing, and be additive to their role. Just be watchful and keep an eye out for things that they’re missing. To be a follower, is a form of leadership. It’s really a more cunning way to lead. Even the leaders sometimes need to be lead.
Some things to think about when helping, is to know when to step up and when to step back. Sometimes you need to drop what you’re doing and help out. But sometimes you’re going to be hurting the team if you try to step in. Just think about your participation and whether its best for YOU to back up and let others figure something out, or whether your participation is what will make a difference. There’s a delicate balance here.
Pay attention to your surroundings. Not just your other crew-members, but the lead, the other trades, the customer, the plan, all of it. You’d be amazed at what you see/hear when you really focus and pay attention to everything around you, rather than thinking about the conversation you had with your girlfriend the night before. You may hear something that everyone else missed and it can really save the day.
Be the one who can be counted on. The more a lead or crew knows that you do great work, and offer great help – the more you will be counted on by the entire team. This helps out tremendously. There are always those that nobody wants around and those EVERYBODY wants around. This does not mean “be likable.” It means be able to be counted on. Do work that you’re proud of, do things well and correctly, and help when it’s needed. Don’t be lazy, do shit wrong, and don’t be the person that’s known to “not give a fuck.”
I’ll end with this. BE OPEN TO CRITICISM. There’s definitely no shortage of this in the trades, or really any job you have. When you learn to leave your ego at the door, you can learn so much. Once you let your feelings get involved, everything around you seems like a sharp edge and you end up fighting against, rather than building with a group of people. I’m wrong often…SO often. I make poor choices that I think are great ones. I miss things, and I think I’m right when I’m not. It happens to everyone. Knowing that is key to accepting criticism. DROP THE EGO!