A Little Help from our Friends (or Professionals)

Asking for help is something I’m big on. I talk to clients about the Power of the Request. I exhort friends to ask for what they need. I lecture my kids about asking for help instead of whining.

But here’s the reason we all need so much cajoling—it’s hard to ask for help! Somewhere, we have a misbegotten idea that we should be able to do things ourselves.  That asking for help is weak. That if we just had more resolve, skills, personal power, contacts, motivation, or smarts, things would fall into place.

Redoing this website has delivered a big object lesson when it comes to asking for help. On my to­ do list for a year, “Redo Website!!” was staring up at me. I made and cancelled plans to take a retreat and work on it. I made a clipboard for this eventual unit of work and hung it on my project wall. I told a lot of people it was about to be in process.

But I wasn’t motivated to do anything about it until the name of a designer crossed my desk and I composed an email to her: “I’m looking for help designing a website for my consulting practice. Are you available for a conversation? Do you have time to work on this in the next 3 months?” Mahria got right back to me, we entered a fabulous collaboration together, and you’re seeing the fruits of my request.

I’ve launched simple sites before. Technically, it’s within my sphere of knowledge to do this myself. But I’d moan every step of the way. I’d get stuck a lot, and I’d be uninspired or caught in the limitations of my own perspective. No matter how capable or successful we are, sometimes we just can’t do it alone. Or if we can, the product won’t be nearly as good.

Asking Mahria for help gives me some insight into what it’s like for my clients to ask for my help. Often, I don’t get a call or an email until something is really on fire—the board is dissolving, the morale has hit rock bottom, the organization has no clear sense of mission or vision. I think I get these eleventh hour calls because, when my clients started seeing signs of trouble a year or two ago, they said to themselves, “I can fix this.” Or “This will work itself out in time.” Sometimes that’s true. Lots of times, it’s not. They need a thought partner or a coach. They need a facilitator, a mediator, or a large group intervention that ruffles some feathers or encourages or opens up possibility. They need help! And the first, brave, terrifying step is to ask for it even if they don’t know what it look like or if it will make them feel exposed. I understand that vulnerability, and I take it seriously. It’s scary to open yourself up, to let someone else see into some of the hardest spots in your leadership or organizational life. But beautiful things are created that way. I’m ready for your request.