Asking for help

BUSINESS MATTERS (BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE) - Francis J. Kong - The Philippine Star

A dedicated and faithful worker asked me for advice through a private message she sent through my Facebook page. She says, “I love my job, and I do my job well, but recently, my boss kept adding much more work to my already tight things to do. I approached him and aired my concern; my boss said I should pass on some of the work to my colleagues. This has added stress to my already difficult situation because now my colleagues resent me for passing on work that was supposed to be mine. This situation is now taking a toll on me. I do not feel healthy; I have had conflicts with my husband. What should I do? If I ask him to help me with my situation, would this not make him perceive me as an inefficient leader unable to do my work well?” Sounds familiar? This is why a monicker says: “The reward for good work is more work.”

Asking for help and being labeled by untrained and insensitive bosses as “weak and inefficient is so old-school.” But going back to the helpless and distraught leader asking for advice, there is a lot of cognitive reframing required to understand leadership and the power of asking for help.

Contrary to the illusion that leaders should always have it all together, the truth is that they are not invincible superheroes but human beings who need assistance along their journey. A leader’s most potent words, amid the cacophony of decisions and responsibilities, are “I need help.”

Leaders are like magnets, attracting problems, decisions, tasks, conflicts, and a slew of challenges. The weight of these responsibilities can quickly accumulate, leading to exhaustion. Leaders are the bedrock of their teams and organizations, and many rely on their strengths. However, there are moments in a leader’s journey when they yearn for someone to step in and help carry the load. Regrettably, this need often goes unexpressed, hidden behind a façade of invincibility, but leaders need to acknowledge that they can’t do it alone.

We live in a time that has thrown unprecedented challenges at leaders. A worldwide pandemic, inflation, rising prices, supply chain shortages, slow growth, and geopolitical tension within three years have added a sense of fear, stress, and anxiety to everyone in the workplace. Many of these managers stare at a computer screen, unsure of their next move. When their aspirations surpass their capabilities or exhaustion hinders their performance, the need for help becomes apparent. But many are hesitant to do so.

Admitting that you need help may be difficult, but asserting, “I am no Marvel or DC superhero, and I cannot do everything alone” is liberating. Our egos, bolstered by impressive titles, can make it challenging to accept this reality. However, as leaders, it’s essential to be humble. The strength of a leader lies not in their ability to do it all but in their willingness to ask for help when needed. An effective leader builds a team that operates beyond their significance. The organization should continue to function seamlessly. Humility is the key to embracing this truth.

Another alternative is to respond with, “You decide” when facing problems. As leaders, we make countless decisions daily, which can be overwhelming. People often approach us with problems they can solve and seek affirmation. “You decide” empowers them to trust their instincts, alleviating the burden of another decision.

One of the most profound questions a leader can ask their team is, “How can I help you?” This simple question allows others to express their needs, sparing them from saying, “I need help.”

Just as leaders struggle to declare their need for help, they are seldom asked how they can be assisted. However, remember that leaders are led by someone, too. If you follow a leader, seize the opportunity to reciprocate the question. Some of the best individuals you’ve ever led may be keen on assisting when needed. Their willingness is valued, appreciated, and genuinely refreshing.

The weight of leadership can only be carried for so long without help. Eventually, the humility to admit vulnerability will come naturally. It’s acceptable to say, “I need help.” Mark Johnson says: “Leadership is not a solitary journey; it’s a shared expedition, where asking for help is a sign of wisdom, not weakness.”

The leadership experience and journey are paved with the willingness to acknowledge one’s limitations and seek help when necessary. Don’t be afraid to say, “I need help,” because in doing so, you inspire greatness in yourself and those you lead. If your boss does not understand this and perceives this as a sign of weakness, then that is a different issue we will tackle at another time.



(Francis Kong’s podcast “Inspiring Excellence” is now available on Spotify, Apple, Google, or other podcast streaming platforms).

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