It’s hard to ask for help. And too many times we don’t, fearing that others might think that we are weak, stupid, incompetent, or “in over our heads.” This fear keeps many people suffering with an addiction from seeking treatment, and it keeps those struggling with mental health issues from finding the help they need. Likewise, that same fear makes it hard for some leaders to put up their hands to ask for help at work when they struggle to perform well.
Why is it so hard to ask for help?
Some leaders ask themselves these questions and don’t like the answers—
- What if my boss loses confidence in me, or my employees lose respect for me?
- What if I say something, get some help, and still fail?
- What if by asking for help, I get fired or demoted?
As a crisis counselor, I learned quickly to neither minimize nor maximize the potential consequences of a client’s choice or action. Most people can smell BS a mile away, so it’s a good thing I didn’t try to use manipulation as a therapeutic tool.
Similarly, I won’t gild the lily about what could happen if you struggle to perform well at work. Yes, you could develop a reputation as someone who can’t get things done. Yes, you might fail no matter how much help you get. And yes, you can even lose your role or your job.
“So why the hell would I raise my hand to get help?” you might ask.
Not even (or especially) leaders know everything
Most organizations function in teams these days. Gone are the days of companies being led by a handful of subject-matter experts who know the ins and outs of every role throughout an organization. Find one of those leaders still working, and I’ll show you a fierce micro-manager.
Leaders don’t need to be omniscient; rather, they need to be able to find answers and keep learning.
Confidence might get you a job; humility can help you keep it
Immature leaders surround themselves with people who will follow; mature leaders surround themselves with people who can lead.
Imagine what would happen if instead of reassuring your employees that you knew exactly what you were doing, you asked them for help solving a problem. They might come with ideas and approaches you never would have come up with.
Now imagine going to your boss and saying something like, “I know how important this is, and I want to learn how to get this right. Can you help get me started?” Unless you work for Naomi Campbell, you probably won’t get hit over the head with a cell phone.
There are worse things than getting fired
Years ago, a manager ran a regional claims processing office. The manager got behind on processing claims on a timely basis. He should have raised his hand and asked for help. He didn’t. Instead, he asked a handful of trusted employees to work the weekend. When they arrived, he instructed those employees to shred thousands of Medicare insurance claims forms that he was behind on getting out. Essentially, he destroyed the evidence that he was in over his head.
How did that work out? The manager went to prison where he died. And the company received a $144M fine and a soiled reputation.
There is no shame in getting lost. We all do. But there are no rewards for staying lost when help is available.
What will you do to get help today?