Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Edgar Schein helps out

Because of a gift from Twitter friend Ralf Lippold who I met (in person!) while he was attending a conference on Cape Cod, I just read a wonderful book by Edgar H. Schein entitled Helping, How to offer, give, and receive help. It is a great exposition of the importance of helping in a society. Beyond the general discussion, there are good lessons for people in business about the manner in which help is offered and received.

Here's is a short paragraph that I found compelling, headed, "Accepting help as a leadership function."

Many people in senior management positions have the power and the potential to be effective change managers through learning how to help, but their formal position and actual power often lead them into premature fixing. Those at the top of the ladder, in particular, are drawn to the expert and doctor role, whereas effective change management really requires the process consultant role. The dilemma of the organizational consultant is how to get across to clients that they need to learn how to be process consultants and accept the role as a legitimate and necessary part of being an effective leader.


e-Patient Dave said...

Here's the Amazon page.

Paul, one reviewer says

"Research in neuro-psychology indicates that our social brains are hard-wired for altruism and that we feel better when we help each other. This book is important in reminding os of our roots that include yet transcend mere survival.Leaders and teams that make reciprocity a part of the vision and mission of the organization will find more innovation and heathier human beings."

Is that in the book or something the reviewer brought up separately?

Lachlan Forrow, MD, FACP said...

Thanks, Paul. I didn’t know about Edgar’s work, but skimming info on his book (esp. his distinction between good -- effective -- help and bad -- ineffective -- help) it sounds very much in the spirit of our Schweitzer Fellows Programs. These are anchored in Schweitzer’s belief that effective service to others provides unusually deep personal satisfaction.

What’s neglected in most of the rhetoric about “service” is that it needs to be effective, not just to be of value to others (i.e. of any real value), but also because seeing real impact of what one does provides the crucial feedback loop to keep one going. It’s not very satisfying to be ineffective, which is (I think) the single most important reason that idealistic young health professionals who start off thinking they want to work with underserved and marginalized communities so often drop out. Doing that work is hard, and most who start get frustrated and/or burn out.

We’ve found that providing them with mentors and helping them develop real skills in working with these populations, with ongoing peer support from similar-spirited professionals, leads to service that has real impact, which then is especially satisfying, which then leads one to want to develop even greater skills, which then provides even greater satisfaction, and then one is on a solid path to be a “Schweitzer Fellow for Life” who can hardly imagine not continuing this kind of work.

As Alex Stovall, one of our >200 2009-2010 Schweitzer Fellows across the country says in an interview on our blog (URL below):

“I’ve always known myself to be a compassionate and empathetic person. But until recently, these qualities never translated into a solid history of service to my community. I went into this project with no real idea of what to expect personally. Simply put, I’m most surprised by how much I enjoy the emotional benefits of doing service work. Working hand in hand with people who shared the same positive energy with the common goal of building something tangible (the student-run PT clinic) provided a sense of self-satisfaction I’ve rarely experienced before this project.

One always frets about the unknown. I’d be less than honest if I said I wasn’t concerned about how I felt making this commitment. I realized the true effect of this work based on how I felt the night before I was to serve in the clinic. I went from worrying about what would happen on days of service to anticipating them most as part of my weekly routine. “

There actually isn’t anything all that creative in this – it’s a near-universal phenomenom in professional development. You could substitute “neurosurgery” for “service to marginalized populations”… I suspect you could substitute "hospital administrative leadership..."

I’ve ordered Edgar’s book…


(See for more on our Schweitzer Fellows Programs, and our blog Beyond Boulders for lots of stories of our Schweitzer Fellows, the work they do, and the satisfaction they find in doing it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Dave, I don't remember and have already loaned the book to someone else, so I can't check whether Ed said it or not.

Lachlan, I know you will enjoy the book. It is a gem and right up your alley.

RalfLippold said...


Rethink Ed's words about social economics and recprocity two weeks ago I would certainly agree to the reviewer's statement (even though it wouldn't be my way of saying it).



PS.: Still in the midst of reading it. Probably will finish over the Atlantic when flighing back tomorrow after terrific three weeks in the Boston area:-)

e-Patient Dave said...

Ralf, I can't find any Schein words two weeks ago... if you have a link, let me know.

btw, I'm seeing all kinds of cascading implications to this issue. I bet it ties directly to the story I heard years ago that rescue dogs (e.g. at Ground Zero) get depressed if they don't find someone alive. I read that the searchers took to hiding a live person so the dogs could have a "win" from time to time, which kept them going.

(Sorry, the above may seem a bit loopy, but during my illness I got a fair bit of experience with the mind-body-attitude stuff. This is a been in my bonnet at the moment - I wrote about it Friday night, linking to one of your posts from back then.)

RalfLippold said...


Sorry for the delay. Just now reread Paul's article and the comments.

I attended Ed's workshop on Cape Cod ( three weeks ago now and he mentioned the things I was writing in my last comment. You will also find it in the book - by now I am fairly done with it, re-reading it now already, applying to "daily affairs".

Best regards


ed schein said...

I am thrilled at the interest that my book has stimulated and want to comment on the built in need to help that many of us experience. I dont know whether altruism is genetic or a learned motive, but the important discovery I have made is that the need to help is precisely what gets us into trouble often because we help prematurely or we overhelp or we second guess what might be needed and give the wrong kind of help. The trick seems to be how to find out what is actually needed before we jump in.
Ed Schein

e-Patient Dave said...

Great to hear from you, Ed. You probably don't remember me from Sloan (back in the ice ages), but I remember you, particularly the work you were doing in healthcare.

> The trick seems to be how to find out
> what is actually needed before we jump in.

That WOULD be the million dollar question. I know about a hundred people whose lives would have turned out differently if they'd mastered that one.

What's the secret? Or is that what the book's about?