Why don’t business leaders, entrepreneurs and employees ask for help?
No one wants to appear weak
“I don’t need help.”
People in a position of leadership have to take a hard look at whether the culture they are building is conducive to facilitating team members feeling comfortable asking for help. Does the leadership team at the corporate office lead by example in asking for help? Do local managers ask their teams for help? When was the last time someone on the team asked for help?
If our organization's culture has the bravado where if you can’t hack it then don’t let the door hit you on the backside, we will not hear anyone asking for help. This environment is expressed in much more subtle ways as well, wherein the organization does not exemplify how to ask for help or create avenues for team members to reach out without repercussions (real or perceived).
Five questions that can help us build a culture that is conducive to collaboration:
No one wants to be overrun
“I need help, but…”
Perhaps people are asking for help but they are not getting a positive response. We have to be mindful as well as intentional to create a culture where asking for help does not lead to exclusion or imperialism. Being mindful and intentional with how we address a request for help starts something as simple as paying attention, management expert Tom Peters reminds us to ask the question, “Do I make eye contact 100 percent of the time?” Being positive and approachable, as mentioned above, could start with the act of putting our phones down, making eye contact and giving 100 percent of our attention to whomever we are interacting with.
Imperialism is the expansion of power through brute force or diplomacy. In the work place there are hostile takeovers of another’s position, the scenario where someone is asked for help or told that they need help and then they are steamrolled by the one providing assistance. “I was just trying to help,” the imperialist will say, and they may believe they have the best intentions but their process does not lead to independence for the workmate that they are “helping”.
Exclusion is much more subtle as is imperialism by diplomacy. On paper or to the outside world, exclusion may appear like assistance but it nets the same result as a takeover it is just done with a bit more savvy. When the person asking for help is subtly pushed out of their role or responsibility then the process of exclusion has begun. Many well-intentioned leaders are guilty of taking over the kitchen rather than teaching their employees how to bake bread.
Assistance should lead to independence rather than dependence or takeover. Many organizations create internal competitiveness which may build towards growth goals but if not managed with the correct environment could suffer greatly in lack of internal collaboration. Working together to make the whole team stronger allows us to compete and collaborate.
We should remember to listen before we speak and listen longer than we think we should. Listening unlocks doors and removes bricks in those walls that have created barriers to interaction. If employees perceive leadership and the culture as one that is not open to being helpful then they will not engage in seeking assistance.
No one ever taught us how to ask for help
“I don’t know who or how to ask for help.”
We cannot take it for granted that everyone knows how to ask for help or to whom they would go for help. This could be a significant gap both in the onboarding process as well as the ongoing development of the team – who can help you when you need it. There may be people asking for help they just may not be clear about communicating what their needs are. If people approach the boss but they are always busy or appear too busy, opportunities may be missed.
If people have reached out but they were shot down, ignored or even scorned, opportunities are definitely being missed. Raising our emotional intelligence (EQ) allows us to understand that perception is a tricky thing and it often overrules reality so it is important that those in a position of leadership are intentional about interacting with their teams in positive ways to open up channels of communication. In a training outline from McKinsey & Company on how to take charge without taking over, they recommend that new leaders or teams in a process of change should, “Keep all messages explicitly positive and defer all penalties until it is clear that positive behavior will not emerge without them.”
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