By Anne Evenson
Asking for help as a manager or an experienced leader can be daunting, and many perceive asking for help as a sign of weakness. Here’s how you can master the art of asking for help when you are in a position of authority.
“Asking for other’s guidance helps you see what you may not be able to see. It’s always important to check your ego and ask for help.”
Ken Blanchard, American motivational public speaker, author and business consultant.
Everyone needs help at work now and then, even seasoned managers and experienced leaders. But sometimes, asking for help from a position of authority can be daunting. Some organizational cultures promote self-actualization and individual productivity, and many perceive asking for assistance as a sign of weakness. However, admitting that you need help doesn’t make you an inept manager or a bad leader. Instead, it shows strength because you don’t fear vulnerability and will use all available resources to make the best decisions. Whatever the size of your organization or how long you’ve held your position, there’s an art to asking for help, so let’s explore why it’s important, when it’s appropriate and who and how to ask.
Don’t Buy Into Falsehoods
There are myths that managers and leaders who ask for help are weak, ignorant or incompetent. These fictions are counterproductive for several reasons. One, they aren’t sustainable; you are a human being, and no matter how good you are at your job, you will make a mistake eventually. If the error requires more resources to fix than you can manage on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Two, these misperceptions can make you feel like you can’t perform your role and don’t deserve to hold your position (imposter syndrome) or that you will be indebted to someone if you ask for assistance. In reality, a strong leader aims for strategic goals like executing the mission, developing team competencies and confidence, and securing stakeholder engagement for overall success. Three, these fallacies contribute to poor leadership. Good leadership is about connection, which is based on trust. Your team must see you as a fallible person who sometimes needs help, just like everyone else. A little humility, transparency and collaboration go a long way to building strong workplace relationships.
There are other obstacles to asking for help that are real and perceived. For example, a lack of psychological safety at work means you don’t feel comfortable speaking out, admitting mistakes or requesting assistance for fear of being shamed or criticized. Some misperceptions may include not wanting to seem selfish or believing you haven’t earned the right to ask for help. It’s important to remember that requests for assistance drive the cycle of reciprocity. It may not be possible to give more than you take in the short term; however, the long-term objective is to be a contributor and a petitioner in equal measure. It’s also important not to be overly self-reliant or assume that no one can help you. Self-confidence is a great motivator, but there are times when you will be more efficient, productive and innovative by seeking guidance from someone else.
Examples of Appropriate Reasons to Ask for Help
When you have no idea where to start or what you’re doing on a new job or project. This may sound obvious, but many people in this situation either waste time trying to reinvent the wheel or attempt to “wing it” and end up needing to ask for help. Avoid putting yourself through this unnecessary drama and ask someone for a helping hand when you know you need one.
When you need another perspective. Situations where you aren’t confident about something are unavoidable; you can’t know everything all the time. Don’t be afraid to request input from someone with expertise relevant to your situation. Someone else may see something you can’t and offer new insights.
When you’re overburdened with too many responsibilities or multiple deadlines. Unfortunately, this situation is common in today’s fast-paced workplace, so most people empathize and are agreeable when asked to support their team or supervisor.
Who to Ask For Help
Start by approaching your colleagues and peers. Perhaps someone within your organization had a similar experience or dealt with the same problem. Requesting assistance from colleagues is also an excellent way to enhance and expand your internal network. Research has shown that individuals respect their colleagues who seek advice more than those who don’t. If you feel more comfortable seeking help outside your organization, your peer network can be an invaluable source of information, suggestions and support. They are often familiar with your work but probably don’t work with you directly and can remain neutral, which can be advantageous depending on the nature of your ask.
Don’t discount asking your team members for help. Showing a little humility demonstrates that you value their contributions. It also cultivates a culture of collaboration, encouraging employees to share different viewpoints, knowledge and skills.
Ask a mentor or someone you respect who has supported your career. Most people are flattered that you value their wisdom and experience and are happy to offer you advice.
Don’t be afraid to turn to a member of leadership for support. Ideally, you’ll look to an emotionally intelligent, empathetic, nonjudgemental leader who excels in interpersonal communication.
How to Ask For Help
Whomever you choose to approach for support, keep in mind that how you present your problem is critical. Never apologize for asking and avoid ambiguity. Be very specific about the expertise or feedback you seek and why you think this individual is the best person to help you. Communicate as clearly as possible the information you require, relevant project timelines and the status of the situation. Remember to include everything you know and have attempted thus far, including things that have and haven’t worked, so they don’t waste time repeating your work towards a solution. And always provide them with all the tools they need to help you. People are much more likely to help you if they understand the scope of the situation.
Also, consider how your request may align with an outcome that benefits you both. And communicate the impact their help will have on organizational objectives and goals. Finally, as with many other workplace requests, it’s best to consider your timing when requesting backup. Don’t burst into your colleague or supervisor’s workspace demanding that they drop everything to help you. Instead, choose a calm moment for you and them, and they’ll be more inclined to help.
Strong leaders and effective managers don’t let fear or pride stop them from asking for help. They are respected and admired and contribute to a workplace culture of cooperation and collaboration.
Anne Evenson is a marketing specialist and copy editor working in Bellingham, WA. She holds a BFA in Fibers and Printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute.
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