Great Leaders Know When to Ask for Help and How to Do It

Jul 5, 2018
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Do you ask for help when you need it? Do you wait until the very last minute? Would you prefer to suffer and go it alone rather than reach out to others for an assist? Does your perfectionism masquerade as procrastination when you get stuck on a project? Do you beg and complain or engage and empower when asking for help? Do you know how to effectively receive help from others? Is it pride, insecurity, or paranoia that keeps you from asking for help?

Some people think asking for help is a sign of weakness. Others believe if you want something done right, do it yourself. Wrong! Sometimes people are afraid to ask for help because they don’t have a lot of experience doing it that often, they haven’t practiced how to do it, and they’re not exactly sure how to do it effectively.

Even if you are an individual contributor or the only person on your team or in your function, that doesn’t mean you have to do everything all by yourself. Regardless of your role, leadership is an attitude, not a title. And a leader knows how to delegate well and recognizes when to collaborate for the greater good. After all, what’s a great leader without a great team?

The key is knowing when and how to ask for help, and what to do with what’s provided.

1. When to ask for help. If you have exhausted all potential solutions or you are in over your head, don’t be afraid to reach out. If you can approach your manager, colleague, or direct report in an effort to gain their assistance, show them what you have already done. Not only will they see that as helpful to what they have to accomplish, they will know you are not simply asking them to just do it for you because you are lazy.

2. Choose your time wisely. Ask if they are available to chat or schedule a time to meet rather than barging in and telling them about your difficulties. They could misread your plea for help as you simply venting about a problem. Instead, approach them when they are prepared to listen and they will be more willing to help you.

3. Don’t be a martyr. Struggling does not show people how hard you are willing to work or how much you are willing to sacrifice so much as it displays how inefficient you can be. People would rather partner with someone, than rescue them. After you have hit the wall and examined the possibilities, don’t waste time, go to get some help.

4. How to ask for help. Demonstrate what you have already tried in order to save them time. Be clear about what you need and when you need it completed. Give them some options and you can turn your quest for help into a collaborative session with a co-worker.

5. Equip them to succeed. Provide them with the resources they need to complete the task. Even if it takes some time to train them, it will pay dividends down the road. You won’t win any fans by delegating a difficult task without equipping that person to complete it quickly and efficiently.

6. Give thanks. Even if the task is not completed to your level of standards, thank them for helping you in your time of need. If this task becomes something you intend to share or delegate regularly, you can provide coaching before you need their help again. But thank them immediately. A genuine thank you will often times mean more than you can imagine to some people. Thank them in person, and in writing via an email or better yet, a personal note. Recognition and meaningful gratitude will almost guarantee that they will help you again down the road if needed.

Asking for help can be a powerful tool if you employ it strategically and properly. It also provides you the opportunity to invest in others, as well as learn about their capabilities, strengths and preferences. If done successfully you will have the added comfort knowing your team has your back. And you can’t put a price on peace of mind.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.