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Why Asking "How Can I Help?" Leads to Great Leadership

In today's uncertain world, strong and compassionate leadership is needed more than ever before. Leaders are tasked with guiding organizations and people through continual change and disruption while still delivering results. However, for leadership to be truly effective, it cannot merely be about achieving goals or the bottom line. Sustainable success in organizations requires a humane, service-oriented mindset from those at the top.

Today we will explore how and why asking "How can I help?" leads to great leadership.

Research Foundation

There is evidence that servant leadership, which emphasizes putting others first and helping them develop and perform at their best, leads to positive outcomes. In a meta-analysis of seventy independent studies, servant leadership was found to be significantly and positively correlated with follower job satisfaction, organizational commitment, job performance, and organizational citizenship behaviors (Eva et al., 2019). Servant leaders empower followers, help them reach their full potential, and create a culture where people can thrive (Greenleaf, 1970). This caring approach has been shown to enhance motivation and extra-role behaviors from employees (Liden et al., 2014). Servant leadership also strengthens leader-follower relationships and organizational trust due to its authentic concern for others (Joseph & Winston, 2005; Sendjaya et al., 2008).

A Serve-First Mindset

When leaders view their role as helping others rather than lording power over them, it transforms culture and performance. Asking "How can I help?" indicates a serve-first mindset where the leader is wholly focused on supporting everyone's success. This begins at the top, with leaders demonstrating care, compassion, and wisdom for all individuals within the organization. A serve-first philosophy humanizes leaders and fosters relational trust (Covey & Merrill, 2006). When people feel genuinely cared for by leadership, they are more apt to give their maximum effort. Asking how to help communicates empathy and creates psychological safety for open communication up and down the chain (Edmondson, 1999). Overall organizational health depends on leaders serving the needs of their people.

Empowering Through Development

One of the most impactful ways leaders help is by developing the abilities of those around them. Continually asking how they can help employees strengthen skills and advance careers empowers people to take ownership of their work. Leaders who coach and mentor aim to elevate every individual's performance. Research finds leader coaching behaviors positively influence self-efficacy, work engagement, and performance (Kim et al., 2013). By focusing development efforts on individual strengths, leaders cultivate enthusiasm and confidence within their teams. Asking others regularly for input on growth opportunities is valuable for optimizing careers. Development discussions guided by how the leader can help move people into roles utilizing their talents will instill organizational commitment. Leaders enable success across all levels through empowering development.

Inspiring Innovation with a Helpful Mindset

Another benefit of emphasizing helpfulness is how it inspires innovative thinking. When leaders clearly communicate an eagerness to help with challenges or new ideas, it gives employees confidence to suggest improvements. Asking how the leader or others in the organization can help implement new solutions shows openness that motivates creative problem-solving (Gumusluoglu & Ilsev, 2009). Leaders who help brainstorm and provide resources for experimentation demonstrate that innovation is supported from the top. Research on transformational leadership connects this inspiring philosophy with increased innovation (Gumusluoglu & Ilsev, 2009). Leaders who help bring ideas to fruition teach employees that creativity and risk-taking are valued. This fosters an environment where innovative practices are continuously developed to drive organizations forward.

An Example: Google

Known for its innovative, people-first culture, Google exemplifies how a highly productive company can be built on leaders asking "How can I help?" Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin built the organization with a philosophy of placing no limits on employees' ambitions and providing support to help ideas succeed (D'Onfro, 2019). Leaders are available as coaches and counselors, giving help that fosters independence and growth. Autonomy with guidance has led to employee ownership over work. Google also encourages sharing problems and requesting assistance so leaders understand how best to help teams progress. The result has been continual innovation resulting in industry-leading initiatives like Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, and more. This success illustrates that putting helpfulness for others at the core leads to an environment where creativity and excellence thrive.


Leaders who adopt a genuine helpful mindset through asking "How can I help?" on a regular basis cultivate high performance, empowerment, and innovation within organizations. A serve-first philosophy humanizes the leader's role and builds relational trust. Helping others develop abilities inspires confidence and engagement. Being available to help employees overcome challenges and turn ideas into reality motivates innovative thinking. As evidenced by Google's accomplishments, putting "How can I help?" at the core creates a culture where both people and businesses can flourish far into the future. When leaders approach their role with compassion and a commitment to elevating all individuals, it transforms the human dynamic and maximizes an organization's full potential for sustainable success.


  • Covey, S. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2006). The speed of trust: The one thing that changes everything. New York, NY: Free Press.

  • D'Onfro, J. (2019, April 12). How Google builds its 'culture of ownership' and gives staff freedom rarely seen in the corporate world. Business Insider.

  • Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350–383.

  • Eva, N., Robin, M., Sendjaya, S., van Dierendonck, D., & Liden, R. C. (2019). Servant leadership: A systematic review and call for future research. The Leadership Quarterly, 30(1), 111–132.

  • Greenleaf, R. K. (1970). The servant as leader. The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

  • Gumusluoglu, L., & Ilsev, A. (2009). Transformational leadership, creativity, and organizational innovation. Journal of Business Research, 62(4), 461–473.

  • Joseph, E. E., & Winston, B. E. (2005). A correlation of servant leadership, leader trust, and organizational trust. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 26(1), 6–22.

  • Kim, S., Egan, T. M., Kim, W., & Kim, J. (2013). The impact of managerial coaching behavior on employee work-related reactions. Journal of Business and Psychology, 28(3), 315–330.

  • Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Zhao, H., & Henderson, D. (2014). Servant leadership: Development of a multidimensional measure and multi-level assessment. The Leadership Quarterly, 17(2), 161–177.

  • Sendjaya, S., Sarros, J. C., & Santora, J. C. (2008). Defining and measuring servant leadership behaviour in organizations. Journal of Management Studies, 45(2), 402–424.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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