There is a common misconception that asking for help is a sign of weakness. However, if you shift your mindset, you can see asking for help as a sign of strength. When President Obama spoke to students in 2009 he said, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.” Because I don’t have President Obama on speed dial, I turned to some successful women to find out the best way to ask for help and how it can advance your career.
Know your strengths and weaknesses.
According to a recent Gallup study, people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job, leading to a positive impact on performance, productivity, and profitability. Tallia Deljou, co-founder and president of the career advice and lifestyle site, Mavenly and Co., explains that knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses can serve as a guide for when to ask for help. “By being self-aware and knowing your own strengths, you can more easily turn to people to get things done that aren’t your natural strengths. In this way, it’s to your personal benefit to delegate or seek out support to get things done efficiently and effectively,” she notes.
Alyssa Rapp, managing partner of AJR Ventures, recommends increasing self-awareness by asking for honest and direct feedback. Rapp commends one of her colleagues for asking for a 360-review because, “It was a terrific way to ask for an honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses while paving the path to ask for help to bolster weaknesses and achieve future career goals.”
Work independently before asking for help.
Deljou suggests working toward a solution before looking for guidance. “Although many of us think asking for help makes us look weak or incompetent, the reality is that it can make you look good as long as you show that you’ve attempted to resolve your own challenges first,” she says. Deljou proposes starting the conversation by explaining your potential solutions. “In this way, you are signaling your competence and commitment to achieving success, and that you’ve done some prep-work beforehand.”
Be specific and strategic.
Ask targeted questions that will allow you to set your strategy. “Questions that are too open-ended will rarely net you ideas for specific actions and could cause you to appear unfocused. Questions that cause managers to think will not only lead to great insight but will position you as someone driven to contribute and succeed,” says Helene Lollis, president and CEO of Pathbuilders.
Ask for help early instead of waiting until the eleventh hour. “My best advice is to remember that asking someone you trust for advice is not a sign of weakness or lack of ability to do the job – it shows that you’re smart enough to not let the situation get out of control before asking for help,” notes Judy Cascapera, chief people officer at Nestlé USA.
Develop authentic relationships with colleagues.
Asking for help at work can lead to stronger relationships with your coworkers. “The best way to get help when you need it at work – and to live up to your full potential – is by developing real, deep, authentic relationships,” mentions Vildan Kehr, divisional vice president of talent acquisition at Abbott. She cautions asking people to make decisions or solve problems for you because it is likely to hinder your credibility over time. “Give some thought to the situation at hand and engage others to help you find the right way to solve the issue,” she advises.
Create a group of trusted mentors and advisors.
Jennifer McCloskey and Sahili Sheth, co-founders of The Considered Collection, explain that asking for help is advantageous for both parties. “If you are ever hesitant to ask for help thinking it might make you seem weak or unknowledgeable, just try shifting your perception. Remember that when you ask for support, others are able to share their expertise, gifts, and talents with you, thereby empowering them,” they say. “It is also a wonderful opportunity to open the doors to finding a mentor who is eager to help on an ongoing basis and share their knowledge with you, and whose career path you can learn from and emulate. A win-win for all.”
Liz Wessel, co-founder and CEO of WayUp, mentions that one of the company’s core values is: “Be a master of your craft, but know that you’re not THE master.” Wessel explains that she strives to follow this adage by surrounding herself with a core group of mentors and advisors that are experts in certain fields and skills.
Asking for help the right way can be a catalyst for continuous personal and professional development.