ID-10046852Successful leaders get things done. They think big, drive for results, take risks and deliver on their plans. They also do something that is less known, and that is they ask for help. When facing difficulties, they ask for help in a way that builds cooperation and respect.

Some leaders don’t feel comfortable asking for help, when self-sufficiency is prized in our western work. They fear asking for help may be seen as a sign of weakness or that they are not competent. Yet, the same leaders often struggle with an increased work load and lament the lack of cooperation in their organisation.

If leaders are reluctant to seek help themselves, it sends a signal to their team members that admitting vulnerability and not coping is unacceptable in the organisation. If this happens, feelings of isolation and alienation will increase with the rise of organisational uncertainty.

It’s only when leaders model that seeking help is not only acceptable but is actually desirable, that the team and ultimately the organisation will be able to proactively get the resources they need to support themselves and to transition the organisation through difficulties.

This was also borne out in my research on personal resilience (more here), which found that asking for help and also giving help was one of the seven components of resilience.

So how can you overcome an inherent reluctance to ask for help, and to ask for help in a way that enhances your reputation as a leader, rather than diminishes it? Here are some ideas:

1.   Help others first

Building resilience involves both getting as well as giving help. So look for opportunities to help others. Build your reputation that you offer support before its requested. Neuroscientists have found (study here) that reciprocity is hardwired into our DNA and so you can expect help when you have helped others.

2.   Reframe your thinking

Get over thinking that asking for help means that you are weak. Strong people ask for help; weak people prevaricate until things become worse. Also, get over the idea that you can be a leader by going it alone. Simply put, asking for help is a smart strategy and a strength, not a weakness.

 3.   Use strong phrases to ask for assistance

If asking for help feels awkward, don’t use that word. Rather ask for assistance.

When approaching a colleague for assistance:

  • Don’t say: “I’m really feeling stupid and just don’t know what to do” or “I’m totally overloaded. I’d really don’t have time to do this”.
  • Rather say: “You are always able to coordinate information and get the reports out on time. Would you give me some advice as to how I can do that too?”

When approaching your boss for assistance:

  • Don’t say: “I need some help with this decision” or “I’m really at a loss to as to what to do. Please help me”
  • Rather say: “I need some information from you. What would a successful outcome be in your eyes?” Or “I don’t need you to make a decision for me. I’ve come up with several solutions, but because of the importance, I’d like to run my thinking past you”
4.   Create a culture of cooperation

When you are together with your colleagues or with your team, praise and reinforce examples you have observed of people asking for help.

Here’s an idea: when a new person joins, at your next team meeting, explain their role and then in turn ask each team member to say  what they commit to do to help make the new person successful. At the end, the new person can respond as to what they commit to do to help the team be successful. Watch how your team cooperation grows.

5.   Try this at home

Ask for help at home too. You don’t have to do everything. Make lists of things that are easy to accomplish and repeatable that the kids can do. Once they get over the shock of having to help out, it will give them a sense of accomplishment and ownership.

Use your list of things that need to be done to talk to your partner about. What can he/she do, what can be outsourced to hired help or the neighbor’s kid?

In summary, ask for help. It’s what successful professionals and leaders do.

Image courtesy of Ambro at

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