Leadership Tip #5: Learn How to Ask for Help

Are you wary of asking for help? You might feel weak. Or, you might worry your colleagues see you as weak or incompetent.

You might not feel safe if you want to ask for help.

However, very few of us know everything we need. Or can do everything we want to accomplish without asking for help.

Help is a form of support. And one size support does not fit all.

We Need a Variety of Support

For example, I'm short. I can barely reach the bins on an airplane. And for years, I didn't want to ask for help. Finally, on the advice of a colleague, I started to ask for help.

I was totally surprised by my fellow passengers' reactions. People smiled at me. Some of them made short-person jokes (with my approval). One lovely (tall) woman said, “I was so hoping you'd ask me. I love to support people.”

Was I surprised? Oh, yes!

I expected difficult outcomes—I received wonderful outcomes. (People live up or down to our expectations of them.)

Physical support is one thing. More often, we need to ask for help with complex problems at work. Most juicy problems require several people's collaboration to solve.

When we ask for help, we:

  • Offer a gift to others. Who doesn't want to support or assist other people? (Like that lovely tall woman.)
  • Admitting we don't know everything.  This means other people can also admit that. (See Leadership Tip #4: Admit When You Don’t Know.)
  • Show that we are open to new possibilities, that we can learn.

These last two ideas help us increase our self-esteem. Even if you might not feel that way at the time.

The more you can ask for help, the more you increase your self-esteem. In addition, the more the people around you can exercise their critical thinking skills.

Here's how you might reframe asking for help in your environment as a sign of strength.

Reframe Asking for Help as a Sign of Strength

This image explains what happens with many of my clients.

Someone gets stuck. Many of us know what that feels like as a technical team member. But I'm going to talk about a manager.

Don, a CIO, attempted to “install” a common agile framework. However, the senior managers didn't change their actions. The teams didn't change how they worked. The middle managers actively acted against the framework.

Finally, after several months of no real change, Don gathered his senior leaders. He said, “I need help. I thought this framework would work for us. But I don't see that it is. Can you help me by discussing what you see?”

That's when Don learned that the framework didn't help the senior leaders learn what to do differently.

Meeting with senior leadership helped Don learn as part of a team. The senior leaders gave Don many ideas. Which meant Don needed to learn with the middle managers.

Don gathered several (not all) middle managers. He asked about the framework. At first, no one answered him. They sat there in uncomfortable silence. Finally, one of the middle managers said, “If we use this framework, we have no jobs to do. We lose our bonuses the way you currently configured them. The teams are doing okay with this framework. Why would we use this framework?”

Don now learned much more about the problems this framework caused and solved. Previously, he only thought about the problems the framework solved. He now had a fuller understanding of his choices and what he wanted.

Now, Don could create more alternatives—with others, not for them.

Other People Offer More Alternatives

Every time I work with other people, I'm happily surprised at how they think. They develop alternatives I don't consider. That's because they see data I don't have.

The more I ask for help, the more deeply I understand the problem(s).

Sure, I still ask for physical help on an airplane. Just because I understand my height doesn't mean I can directly solve it. However, I can ask other people for support.

When I ask other people for support on the problems I see in the organization? Wow. That's when I learn and see new alternatives.

That's why asking for help is a sign of strength and leadership.

If you want to learn more about asking for help, please see Practical Ways to Manage Yourself: Modern Management Made Easy, Book 1.

This is a part of the series of leadership tips.

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