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Ask for Help

Jan 31, 2021 8:20:20 PM / by Tim McCarthy

Author’s note: For deeper thinkers, as in Harvard Business Review, see this month’s featured article.

SOS written in the sand.

I personally find it difficult to ask for help.  Maybe you do, too.

In my case, it seems like my ego gets in the way.  

I proudly carry the (self) image as the “strong leader” in our businesses; strong husband in our marriage; the strong Dad to my children and grands. But if I am answering questions rather than asking them, how much room does that leave for me to learn and grow with them?

It is obvious that “two heads are better than one” and yet still, I fear the unknown. Or perhaps even more I fear loss of control.

I have formed this bad habit of acting sure of myself over a long period of time. Breaking that habit requires that I learn to say, “I don’t know” or “what do you think?” to someone asking my advice.  

The best leaders I’ve worked with collect opinions and data from others to create options. More options then lead to better decisions. There are few things, if any that have not been experienced by others.

When my boss gave me my new business card with the news of my first big promotion, he said, “doing will no longer be enough for you to be recognized…your future depends on helping others do, so that they might be recognized.”

That transition required me to learn to ask questions instead of answering them. I’m still learning.

Let’s take the business side of things first. Young entrepreneurs who I work with need to learn how to put together a good solid business plan. Good plans require many elements and no one source has all the information needed for good decisions. I generally tell those who seek my advice to come back with a plan. If they do return (most do not), then I ask “who do you know who can help on each element of your plan?”

For example, a young friend came to me to help him build a facility to support a training business he has successfully grown over several years. It has taken him several months to create a business plan and he’s done an excellent job. One of the most important elements now is finding financing for the plan while also finding the right developer/builder to create a home base for the business.

He thinks because I’ve done both things before I might have the answer he needs but instead I’ve said, “Let’s go ask three capital providers and three developer/builders for proposals then see where we are.” Eventually, we will have options that will be far better than any answer I might have given him.

Family matters are harder. My mother used a great approach. A source of wit and wisdom to her ten children, each of us had the experience of telling Mom a problem and asking her what to do. We all remember, sometimes painfully, her standard response included these two questions:

“1. What do you think you should do, honey?, and 2. who else can you talk with about this further?”

Now that I have adult children I can appreciate Mom’s advice, whether I’m being asked for or am looking for an answer: “ask for help”.



Tim McCarthy

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Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy

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