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On Helping Others
2 min read

On Helping Others

Have you tried to help someone only for it to go wrong? Gerald Weinberg has some lessons that you could be mindful of the next time you want to help someone.
On Helping Others

The Need

Wanting to help people maybe a noble motive but that doesn’t make it any easier. Attempts to help are often interpreted as attempts to interfere. If people don’t want your help, you’ll never succeed in helping them, no matter how smart or wonderful you are. Always check whether they want your help.

Mutual Agreement

Effective help can only start with mutual agreement on a clear definition of the problem. Even when people agree that they want your help, that agreement is not usually a lifetime contract. Once people offer to help, they seem to feel that breaking the contract, even when there was no contract, is selfish.


People don’t seem to realise that every offer to help is intended to do something for the helper. There are very few living saints. People who want to help other people generally expect to get something for themselves, though they may not be aware of it. Most people understand that helpers are selfish, but also think they are exceptions to the rule. That said, no matter how strange it may look, most people are actually trying to be helpful.


If you want to motivate people, either directly or by creating a helping environment, you must first convince them that you care about them, and the only sure way to convince them is by actually caring. People may be fooled about caring, but not for long. If you don’t really care about the people whom you lead, you’ll never succeed as their leader.

Love Thyself

Caring about other people is impossible if you don’t care about yourself. The Golden Rule doesn’t say, “Love thy neighbour even though you think you’re a despicable worm.” The ability to love others—and thus to help others, and thus to lead others—starts with the ability to love yourself.


The attempt to help others is not guaranteed to succeed. When you run into a difficulty as a helper, your own feelings about yourself will determine how you react. If you care about yourself, you’ll be able to persist through difficulties and, if necessary, to abandon the project without destroying yourself. If your self-worth is low, you’re going to have to protect yourself. You may abandon the help just when it needs persistence. You may persist long after the attempt has proved harmful to the other party, or even to you. Or you may project the failure away from yourself, blaming the very person you started out to help.

Notes from Becoming a Technical Leader by Gerald Weinberg

Becoming a Technical Leader
Becoming a Technical Leader is a personalized guide to developing the qualities that make a successful problem-solving leader. The book e...