HELP!

— I hate to ask, but…

“Can I do something to help?”

“No thanks; I’ve got it.”

Sound familiar? At the office? At home? Yes, that short conversation takes place millions of times every day across this country in the workplace, in stores, in the kitchen, between co-workers, bosses and employees (both directions), spouses, and parents and their children – basically anywhere there are two people interested in a particular outcome.

Search for help

Since this is part of a newsletter, let’s start in the workplace. We certainly don’t expect our employees to know everything, yet because many of them think and feel like we do, they’re hesitant to ask questions. As leaders, we get frustrated with team members who wait until the last minute to ask for help – or don’t ask for help at all – and things go to hell in a handbasket.

What makes us think it’s any different for our boss? It’s not.

Keep this in mind: you’re not a failure if you ask for help. You fail when you need it and don’t ask for it and the consequences create a crisis. If you don’t believe that applies to you, you might offer it as a piece of advice in your next coaching conversation.

So, why is it so dammed hard to ask for help? Easy… we have egos.

Successful people are helpers, not helpless, right? We think asking for help makes us look weak, undermining our credibility as a (insert self-description here). We may think that, but it’s not true! Pretending we don’t need help when it’s obvious that we do is what undermines our credibility.

rosie-the-riveterSelf-reliance can be both a strength and a self-limiting weakness. Especially at senior levels. We develop this huge blind spot about letting someone else lighten our load. Well, I’d like to offer a hint on what your first clue should be that you need help: someone says, “Can I do something to help?”

They obviously see something we don’t.

Okay, I hear you. You don’t need help. All I can ask is that you keep this in mind next time you get frustrated at someone who won’t ask for help.

How about we build a culture where people aren’t intimidated to ask for help by helping them understand the “when” and “how” to ask questions. I’ve heard it said that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but I know better… I’ve heard some.

Let’s start with when. Here are five good times to ask for help:

  • donaldWhen you don’t know – you encounter a new process, new situation, new technology, new project, etc. Again, the world doesn’t expect you to know everything.
  • When deadlines are in danger – someone else is usually depending on you to complete your part of the project or process on time; don’t disappoint them.
  • When you don’t understand what’s expected – when you accept an expectation, you own it. Sometimes you have to gain clarity on just exactly what is being asked of you.
  • When you’re curious – not in a judgmental way, but actually trying to learn why things are done in a certain way, where what you do fits into the larger effort, or when you don’t understand a decision. WARNING: watch your tone of voice when you ask.
  • When you see an opportunity to develop someone – asking your team to help when you’re overwhelmed (or when you’re not) is an opportunity for you to practice empowerment and for them to grow in the organization.

Great! We’re almost there. Now that your team knows when to ask you for help, here are some tips for how to ask without sounding incompetent:

  • hillaryMake sure you need it – you want to have tried it before your boss offers a simple solution. Start the discussion with “I tried…”
  • Bring solutions, not problems – I wish I had a dollar for every time my daughters heard me say that. You need to be able to say “Here are the options I see…”
  • Be S-M-A-R-T – ask for the help you need, or you’ll get more help than you want. Make your request for assistance specific, meaningful, actionable, realistic and time-bound.
  • Don’t be a martyr – just because you wait until the last minute doesn’t mean it’ll only take a minute. The last thing you want to hear from your boss is “Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”

You didn’t ask for my help, but I’m not surprised. You already knew all of this. And I don’t think I’ll let my wife or Kevin Berchelmann read this. I can already hear them thinking “Physician, heal thyself!”

beatlesThe Beatles had it right:

Help! I need somebody.

Help! Not just anybody.

Help! You know I need someone, help!

Competition vs. Collaboration

– “Can we all get along?” Rodney King III

Late in my Air Force career, I had the great fortune to command a fantastic group of diverse, talented Airmen. The only downside was that we lacked sufficient personnel and resources to be fully capable of executing our assigned mission, which pitted me against my peers in a competition for more – more people, more money, more equipment, and more priority. I thought it was the perfect job for me, because I’d spent most of my career competing for more. (more…)

De-mystifying Millennials

Picture4How many of you are growing weary of pundits and advice-givers obsessing over Millennials taking over the workplace?

You can put your hands down. Me too.

And we Boomers and Gen Xers aren’t the only ones. A very unscientific poll of 100% of the Millennials in my immediate family reveals that they’re both sick and tired of being stereotyped with the Millennial label as one big spoiled, needy, homogeneous cliché. Their reasons are valid: they’re not all the same, and they generally want the same things from work that generations before them have wanted. (more…)

Where Is Everybody?

 –The war for talent rages on…

Don’t get caught with your pants down.
That idiom has its origins in the Roman Emperor Caracalla, later known as Marcus Aurelius. Picture1He was known as one of the bad-ass Emperors somewhere before 200AD. Legend has it he was killed while relieving himself, hence “with his pants down.” Though it may actually have been a robe. Or chainmail. Whatever he was wearing, he had it down and he was killed. Going forward, warriors took care of their business with sword in hand, so not to be “caught with their pants down.”
(more…)

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Several years ago, my sister gave me a book about how to deal with the controlling perfectionists in our lives. She said I might benefit from an impartial description of — get this — me.

Ouch.

Okay, so I only had two standards: perfect and unacceptable. That didn’t make me a bad person did it?

It’s not like I imposed my unreasonably high standards on my family or people at work. After all, I’ve always said, “Don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough.” And I talked plenty about building a culture where failures are learning experiences and not short-cuts to the unemployment line, of embracing our own failures as stepping stones on the road to self-improvement, yadda yadda yadda.

Other people’s failures, of course.

So what’s the problem with having unreasonably high standards?
(more…)