Leaders Need Help

Women at Work

There are times when you need to get help even as a leader.  That’s okay.  Too often leaders think that they have to stand strong and that asking for assistance is a sign of weakness.  Thinking that people will look down on you for getting help is arrogance and could put you at risk of failing.  There are times when you just don’t have the skills or the knowledge needed to get something done.  Or maybe you just don’t have the time to complete something.  These are perfect times to ask for help.

When you have enough self-awareness to realize that you are not Superman or Superwoman and you admit it to your team, they will actually like you more.  Superheroes are great, but hard to live with on a daily basis.  People want to be needed and superheroes stand on their own or have one trusted aide.  In the real world that behavior is self-limiting and goes against team building.  Admitting you need some help will make you seem more human and easier to connect with.

Even knowing all of this it can still be hard for a leader to ask for help.  I have problems with that issue myself.  I have always been very independent and I want to get things done on my own.  Early on I had to step up and take care of the house while my dad recovered from heart surgery.  This was over 35 years ago, so recovery meant weeks in the hospital and months of bed rest.  While my mother focused on taking care of my dad, I took care of everything else to ease her burden.  I was in high school and got it all done without too much trouble, however it did instill a habit of self-reliance that even now is hard for me to break.  I learned how much I could accomplish when I set my mind to it as well as how to run a house.

Jump ahead 15 years; I learned at work that people found it hard to relate to me because I never showed any weakness.  The habit of helping others without asking for help was well ingrained at this point.  I was also one of a handful of female engineers in a factory of 2500 employees.  I was afraid to show any weakness, that it would undermine the credibility I was slowly building.  It turns out I gained more ground by being human and showing that I didn’t have all the answers.  I got into an ugly situation with a shop supervisor where I was on the receiving end of his frustration with a situation and my boss.  Afterwards my struggle to handle what just got dumped on me earned me significant respect from a co-worker, someone I truly like and respect.  Seeing my struggle helped him realize I could be hurt and didn’t always have the answers.  He told me that he liked me a lot more after that day.  It was an Ah Ha moment for me.

People want to contribute to the team and help reach the team goals.  For that to happen they need to really connect with the others on the team.  That means the leader as well.  We all connect better with people who seem human, have flaws and weaknesses as well as strengths.  As a leader, be human, ask people to help when you need it.  They will like better you for it.


Filed under Leadership, Personal Development

21 responses to “Leaders Need Help

  1. Nice well written article. I really appreciate your honesty and fully agree with the point ” As a leader, be human, ask people to help when you need it. They will like better you for it.” and the line ” eople want to contribute to the team and help reach the team goals. For that to happen they need to really connect with the others on the team.”

  2. LaRae Quy

    I loved this post and could really identify with the issues you discuss. I’ve also struggled at showing weakness, and as a result, while many people admired me, not that many liked me 😦 And that is because I never let my guard down! I rarely met them as fellow human beings…I always thought I should be as a superhero! I, too, was one of a handful of female FBI agents in a male-dominated organization…but I got really sick a few years back and it became more about survival for several months. I’m OK now, but I learned a really important lesson: pretending to always be strong can be a killer in itself. Loved the honesty you shared in this article!

    • Thanks LaRae! It can be hard to be a minority, whether it’s as a female engineer/ agent or something else. We end up feeling like strength will get us the respect and credibility we need but people want us to be human first. Sorry you go so sick and I am so glad you are well now. Too many people learn the lesson through illness if they learn it at all. I know you are stronger and better now! 🙂

      Have a wonderful Wednesday.

  3. Carol, thanks for being vulnerable and transparent with this post. I think it’s harder for men to admit that they need help because of the pressure to “man up” all the time. I remember Prof. Vega’s Tweetchat and book where he says women are better leaders for this very reason.

    • Dan – I remember that Tweetchat. I think it can be easier for women but as LaRae and I both experienced, being a woman in a male dominated workplace can make it even harder for women to be vulnerable.

  4. Terrific post, Carol! I too have such a difficult time asking for help and then I don’t always get what I need. It is so important to reach out to others and showing vulnerability just makes us more authentic leaders. Thanks!

  5. Thank you for this well-written post that I resonate with. Sometimes when we lead from a position of previous hurt or painful situation, we can lean towards the “tough guy” stance. The self-reliance, I think, becomes as a safety mode as one tries to protect himself or herself. It becomes a shield and we think that if we let our guard down, the hurt may revisit us again. It took me about 30 years to accept help from others. I have been so independent that it has affected not only my professional and private relationships as I come across as aloof. Writing my book helped me to deal with these issues and now I am working through “oiling the door hinges” and allowing people to come in. It is an awesome experience, when you can accept help… 🙂

    • Kimunya – Thanks for sharing some of your story with me. I can totally relate to what you are saying. I first learned this lesson almost 20 years ago and there are times that I need a refresher course in it. Keeping on letting people in, it really is a wonderful experience – for you and for them. 🙂

      Have a great day!

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  8. Excellent post Carol. I don’t know what I would do without my mentors. I have a few who I go to depending on what the issue is that I am dealing with. Remember…. Leaders grow leaders 🙂

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  11. This is such an important aspect of leadership. People trust people who they can be real with… it’s hard to expose your own vulnerabilities to someone who appears to be “perfect.” Also, it’s hard to trust a super hero… because we wonder what they’re hiding. Great post.

    • Thanks Karin! I totally agree that showing your human side is critical to developing successful relationships at work. People who always seem perfect make me nervous, as you said I wonder what are they hiding.

      Hope you had a great weekend!

  12. I love this post Carol! At first I thought of TED Talks and quotes that echo so much of what you are saying. Then I got completely caught up in your Ah Ha moment imagining you needing to be strong and show what you could do, but not knowing when it was ok to let your guard down and ask for help. I think so many of us face that at some point in our lives, but it is magnified in a place where you are a clear minority! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Chery,

      Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It can be very difficult to be human when you are a minority in the workplace, however, since we connect with people on a personal level we have to be human. I discovered that you are much stronger when you know when you need help instead of ‘toughing’ it out on your own.

      Have a great week!

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