Several years ago, I had the privilege of joining Kevin Carroll and Jamie Mustard on their morning radio show in Portland. Kevin is an internationally recognized performance coach. Jamie is a communications consultant and thought leader. (I was in rarified air.) At the end of the conversation, Jamie asked me a simple question, “What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?”
My answer was relatively straightforward: Ask for help.
Since that time, I have come to understand how often people and organizations ignore those simple words. People almost never ask. In our pursuit for excellence, we wrongly assume that we need to develop solutions ourselves. Somehow, we convince ourselves that no one else has ever faced the challenges we are tackling. Worse, we assume that we can do it better, even without the relevant experience.
The truth is someone has likely invested the time, resources, people, and even engaged a network of advisors to tackle your problem. They have already faced your challenge, and conquered it.
Why don’t we ask for help?
I believe the biggest reasons we don’t ask, are that most accomplished people don’t want to admit they have an issue to begin with. Worse yet, they might have to admit that they don’t readily have the answer.
In addition, most people also wrongly fear that their organization’s leaders want them to build the solution themselves. They incorrectly assume that an admission that you don’t have the best answer calls into question their competence in their role. I believe our fears around both of these reasons are generally unfounded. In over 20 years of leading in organizations, I have never experienced a situation where a senior leader punished someone for looking outside the organization to come up with a better way to do something. Leadership wants the best solution, not our best solution.
How do we give our teammates permission to ask for help?
Removing fear and shifting people’s search for excellence beyond themselves can be a challenge. I believe it begins with modeling the behaviors we want to see. How often does your team or colleagues see you asking for help? I try to bring my real world examples into situations where we are exploring options – inside and out. I have a personal board of directors, that I am intentional in engaging. They are very wise counselors, and often have better answers than I do. I reference them a lot when encouraging my teams to grow beyond what they know.
There are times, when we have to force our teams to use external advisors to “kick start” the process. Recently, I asked two of my teams to develop a new process to improve coordination of our go to market activities. After several conversations, it became clear that they were going to be challenged delivering on my request. I connected with a very experienced former colleague, and asked if he would be willing to share his wisdom. I then connected my team with him. The result, they had a much better understanding of the project, and were able to move very quickly to deliver. Not only did our organization get better, but now I have a recent example of how using external advisors can deliver outstanding results.
Questions are key as well. Do you understand? Have you done something like this before? Do you have an idea who you might ask for advice? These questions need to become part of our normal repertoire.
“He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Why does it matter?
I believe that the pursuit of excellence requires a holistic gathering of information. I also have found that most breakthroughs are built on the expertise and achievements of others. When we continuously looking inside for our best answers, we create smaller and smaller opportunities for excellence. We also reinforce a behavior of pursuing expediency instead of excellence. I think of it as if we were entering a cave. With each decision, we get deeper and deeper inside, with fewer and fewer choices. In the dark, with the walls closing in, our opportunities become narrower – and our chances for a world-class breakthrough almost nil. If we can create a behavioral norm, where we – and our teams – are constantly pursuing the very best solutions, from an ever-expanding group of wise counselors, our ability to achieve breakthrough results improve. With each victory, we will also seek to replicate the behaviors – often.