A Leader’s 3-Step Guide on Asking for Help

Monique Russell

25 June 2019

Being of service to others is a standard requirement for a leader, yet many struggle with being on the receiving end. Many of us are taught the importance of giving, but very few of us learn the art of receiving. To rectify this, there are action steps you can take when asking for help that will allow you to build a connection with others and become a more effective leader. 

But before we look into those steps, we must first accept that asking for help is an internal choice and it is not always easy. We’ve been conditioned to feel that somehow we need to figure things out all on our own and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. It is actually a sign of strength. When you are able to see the value in others and what they bring to the table, it can help you and the team run more effectively.

Take my colleague, Sheila, for example. Sheila was in a holding pattern with her business for a number of years. She understood what needed to happen to be able to move to her next level and the partnerships that needed to be created, but she was challenged with stepping outside of her comfort zone to ask for help. This caused her to miss out on growth opportunities for years. To get her in the right direction, she needed to identify the individuals and places where her ideal partners would be available. She had to release the need to figure it out all on her own. One day after much frustration, she picked up the phone and said three words, “I need help.” At that moment, we brainstormed and she left with solutions to implement immediately.

Sometimes asking for help doesn’t have to be task related. It can be asking for another person’s perspective or insight on an issue.

Sheila is not unique. I have faced similar situations and know of others who have as well. I remember a time when I was leading a project and knew I could not do it alone. I started to, but then things became overwhelming really quickly and I reached out to a few people I trusted and asked for support. My hesitation with asking for help came from two thoughts: Maybe I was encroaching on the person’s time, or maybe they don’t know how to say no and they were only saying yes because I asked.

I would think about all the reasons why I should not ask. After working with a coach, I realized there were two things I could implement to ease my hesitations: 1) I could be very specific about the support I needed and the estimated time it would take, or 2) I could give the person an opportunity to think about the request to avoid premature compliance. These actions have been very helpful in my asking-for-help journey.

Just recently, I called a friend and asked her support with an initiative I am leading. Before I was finished with the details, she was so excited; I could tell she was going to say yes immediately! I stopped her and said, “You don’t have to give me an answer today. I want you to think about what you can and can’t do and then, let me know.” She said, “Thank you for saying that. Often, I say yes too easily and later regret it.”

Most people have faced this challenge or are challenged in some area of asking for help. Here’s a three-step action plan leaders can use to make asking for help a regular practice.

1. Change your mindset. See asking others for help as a growth opportunity for yourself and for the person you are asking. It helps them develop their muscle of either saying no, or growing as a leader by being of service to you. By accepting the help of others, you are passing on the leadership baton. You are allowing someone who takes the initiative to help you and allowing them to grow as a servant leader. Remember that just as you enjoy being of service to others, there are those who want to be of service to you. By learning to receive, you display humility, set examples of servant leadership and allow others to show gratitude for what they have received from you. 

2. Set a weekly 15-minute reminder on your calendar to identify areas where you can request support. This action is a practical step to reinforce your intention. In your meeting reminder, list the following questions:

- Who can I ask for guidance on this situation?
- Who can fill in for me and share an update instead?
- Is there anyone who can do what I am working on right now, but better?

As you respond to the questions each week, identify at least one person you can solicit for support and assistance. Then, take the necessary action to ask.

3. Help other leaders who struggle. When someone is challenged with receiving help, you can take it a step further by asking strategic questions. Chances are if you ask, “Can I help you?” to someone who struggles to receive help, they may say, “No, I am fine. I have things under control.” Instead, better questions to ask would be: “What’s one thing I can take off your plate?” or, “What are you currently working on that’s taking up a lot of your energy?”

Look around and offer support to another leader so the cycle of giving and receiving continues.

Monique Russell

Monique Russell helps leaders and teams practice leadership living from the inside out. She is a professional speaker and an inspirational teacher providing effective communication strategies that reduce conflict, improve productivity, and boost the quality of professional and personal relationships. She is the managing partner of Clear Communication Solutions, and an advisory board member for Leadercast. Connect with her on LinkedIn to learn more.

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