For the second time in a week, I had a client session where a company leader was sagging under the heavy weight of carrying a huge load on their shoulders. After a few probing questions, I heard a revelation I often hear from leaders in every industry, from all over the world: “I guess what it boils down to is I have a hard time asking for help.”
Somehow, many of us bought into the image of the rugged individualist who built an empire with their own hands, grit, and determination. That is a life-stealing myth. Let’s put it to rest now. Any big idea or lofty goal will require a team of talented individuals working interdependently to bring it to fruition.
Think about the successful musician and all those players and pieces that have to come together for us to enjoy her lovely sound in a live show or recording. There are backup musicians, sound technicians, recording specialists, publicists, stage managers, booking agents, makeup artists, wardrobe specialists, lighting crew, just to name a few. Although hers may be the distinct sound, she has a lot of help delivering it to the audience.
I remember the day my parents told me that really, we are all figuring this thing called life out as we go and that they certainly didn’t have all the answers. In that moment, I saw them and the world differently. In a way, it gave me permission to step into the unknown with confidence that I, too, could figure it out as I go and lean into my friends and loved ones for any assistance I might need.
NPR’s How I Built This podcast demonstrates in every episode how asking for others to provide their wisdom is crucial for us to build something significant. I particularly enjoyed the episode with the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey and how he partnered with others and employees to build a successful company and experience for customers, employees, and stockholders.
When leaders have the confidence to be vulnerable and say, “I don’t have all the answers, let’s figure this out together,” they are demonstrating a belief in the contributions and wisdom of their team. It feels great to the team member that someone has high confidence in their particular talent. There have been times when my offer to help on a project was met with, “No thanks, we got this,” which feels like a closed door to the recipient.
Transformational leaders will recognize that every person invested in the outcome can lend something of value, even if holding a particular vision or characteristic in mind is the contribution. They will find a way to say, “Yes! we would love to have your input,” inviting that person’s contribution. Your invitation to have people share their thoughts can net dividends in fresh perspective and ideas as well as building stronger relationships across your organization, network or circle of influence. The more inclusive we are around inviting people to share, the more all of us win.
What if we learn to see asking for help as a valuable leadership skill that invites participation and expanded team engagement? Imagine if that ability to admit not having all the answers were the norm in teams rather than hiding insecurities and pretending to know or avoiding the team meetings where they are scheduled to deliver something but don’t know how.
We can adopt the practice in our everyday interactions by getting curious about where each other’s untapped potential and talents reside. It can be as simple as asking, “What do you see that I might be missing here?” followed by deep listening and appreciation for what they bring.
On the flip side, think about where you are least competent and begin to lean in to those you know, asking for help in a way that allows them to shine. That is transformative in relationships and outcomes. Transformational leaders can be any of us who have a positive impact on those around us. We don’t have to have a C-level title to be a thought leader. Help someone else shine by allowing them to bring their piece of the puzzle and provide an alternative perspective.