How asking for help actually helps you

August 28, 2014, 8:01 PM UTC
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Successful people are people who get things done. How do they get things done? They take risks, they think big, and they make and execute well-thought out plans. There’s something else they do that most people don’t think about: successful people ask for help.

Call it what you will—building a team, outsourcing, collaborating, delegating, etc.—it all amounts to asking for help. And that is a critical factor in professional and personal success.

Many of us are hardwired NOT to ask for help. We think it makes us appear weak. We think we have to be superwomen. We think people will say no. We think we have to do everything ourselves. Whatever the reason, we don’t ask for the help we need. We have to get over that, and here’s how:

Get over yourself. No one—and I mean NO ONE—got anywhere alone. You cannot and should not do everything yourself. You are not, in fact, always the best person for the job, or the “only” person who can do it. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Asking for help clears space for you and frees your time and energy. It’s a smart strategy.

Reframe your thinking. Reframe what it means to ask for help from “I am a weak, incompetent loser” to “I am strategically allocating my time to focus on what matters most.” Don’t dwell on the fact that you can’t do something or don’t have the time or expertise. Instead, think about what you will gain from the ask—a chance to connect, a chance to value a colleague, a chance to get something done faster or better, a chance to optimize your own time and talents.

Know your colleagues. Asking for help is about tapping valuable resources to get the best outcome the most quickly with the fewest resources expended. That’s a fancy way of saying get the right people for the job. It’s all about building the right team. And the best way to do that is to know your colleagues, cultivate your networks, and proactively build relationships.

Think about your colleagues: What are their strengths? Weaknesses? What have they been working on recently? Who works well together? Who leads well? Who follows well? The more you know about your colleagues the more effectively you can tap their wisdom and the better team you will build.

Build your team. Before you embark on a project or task at work, think about the following questions:

What is the scope of this project?

When have I worked on a project like this?

What did I learn and how can I leverage it?

What do I need help with?

Who is an expert in this area or has executed on this task?

Who would be a good fit for this project?

If you know your colleagues, you’ll know who to go to for help.

Frame the ask properly. Don’t say, “I am so swamped. I just don’t have time for this” or “I’m an idiot and can’t figure this out.” You need to frame the ask positively, so it is mutually beneficial. For example:

“Mary, I was really impressed with the report you prepared for the board. Would you help me format my own report?”

“Ted, your work last year on the Jenkins team was fantastic. Would you consider being on my team?”

“Sarah, I think your leadership skills are tremendous. Would you consider chairing this committee?”

Again, asking for help is about tapping valuable resources to get the best outcome the most quickly with the fewest resources expended. Let the person know that you are asking for help because you value their time and talent.

Get an assistant. If you have an assistant at work, lucky you! He or she is your teammate, and you should be outsourcing as much as you can to that person. If you don’t have one, consider hiring a virtual assistant.

I hired one two years ago and it changed my life. She handles things I never in a million years would have trusted anyone to do but me. But I got over myself and gave it a try, and it was the best business decision I ever made. Every day I create a capture list of projects, tasks, phone calls, etc., and then delegate to my assistant, who now handles the things I used to: uploading content to my website, drafting invoices, updating my data base, booking travel, booking appointments, etc. She does things better, faster, and more efficiently than I ever could, and I cannot believe how much it freed me to focus on other things. (I am a HUGE fan of, a site that helps you find virtual personal assistants).

DO try this at home. We are so busy at work, only to come home to find so much more work to do. Rather than nag your partner or kids, try outsourcing at home, too. Think about all the things you could outsource or share the load: grocery shopping, getting the kids to school, scheduling appointments, cleaning the house, doing laundry, scanning photos, sending holiday cards, etc. I hired a home-helper who cooks, cleans, shops, organizes, babysits, etc.

If you don’t want to or can’t hire someone to help out at home, at least be proactive about asking for and getting help. You do not have to do everything alone, so:

Make a master list. List everything that has to get done at home, like laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation, watering plants, taking out the garbage and recycling, etc.

Assess the task and assign the doer. Who else besides you can help? Maybe it’s your partner, your kids, the neighbor’s kid. Find someone to do it and assign it to them.

Make a system. Build a system for sharing tasks that is repeatable. This gives ownership to the doer, simplifies communication, and frees your weekends.

Ask for help. It’s what smart, successful people do.

Camille Preston is the founder and CEO of AIM Leadership. An executive coach and a psychologist, Preston has spent more than twenty years working with corporate leaders to make them more efficient (and happy) on the job. Follow her @CamilleP