How to Overcome the Reluctance to Ask for Help

Most people are not good at asking for help, nor are they particularly good at receiving it. Steeped in fear, shame, or misperceptions about asking for a helping hand, the refusal or reluctance to give in by asking can lead to unnecessary stress, poor results, or delays in delivery or progress. It seems that people fail to recognize the positive side of asking for help, and especially the win-win aspects.

Here are three reasons why asking for a helping hand is not only appropriate, acceptable, and advantageous for leaders it’s advisable:

1. No one is expected to know everything, not even the boss. The higher you climb the leadership ladder, the more your success depends on your team, managers and/or staff. Further, when you ask for help, you are giving others permission to do the same.
2. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. To the contrary, demonstrating vulnerability by asking for help increases your credibility. Your willingness to ask demonstrates self-confidence and respect for the talent and strengths of those you engage.

3. Asking for help is NOT synonymous with incompetence or not knowing. Two out of three times when we ask for help, even when we have competence in a specific area, it’s because we either don’t have time to do what we’re asking others to do, or we have higher priorities. Only about one-third of our requests for assistance involve not knowing (in which case, see point 1 above).


As a leader, you must ask for help, or you’re not leading. When you engage others as part of the solution, you’re enabling them to feel good about helping you. Asking your team, peers or friends for a helping hand invites others to demonstrate their gifts and talents, which boosts their self-esteem. You equip individuals with an opportunity to learn and gain experience, which fuels their growth. You raise their profile and level of responsibility while providing an opportunity to serve, contribute, make a difference, or (depending on the request) even to leave a mark.


However, asking for assistance is not all about the helper. The person making the request has just as much to gain. Leaders who ask for help display self-confidence and are able to clear their plates of nonessential tasks so they can channel their strengths on issues of strategic importance and the bigger picture. Equally important, people can enjoy better life balance when they redistribute their load appropriately at home and at work. They stress less, have time for self-care, and are able to channel more energy in important relationships.


I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the drawbacks of asking for help. Lower productivity, poor leadership performance, or less growth and profitability are often traceable to leaders who fail to ask for help.


Excuses range from not wanting to develop debt or spend money, to complaining it takes effort to give instructions for work they most likely will have to redo, or the downright refusal to give up their pride. In an effort to avoid losing face or giving up control, these leaders misuse valuable time completing work that could easily be done more effectively by those they lead.


While the hardships associated with asking for and accepting assistance is legitimate, here are three steps to increase your ability to ask for help:


    • Assess the risk of NOT asking for help
    • List at least 5 compelling benefits to you
    • List an equal number of benefits for others


Then ask for help, and accept the assistance with appreciation.


Proactively seek opportunities to ask for help with little things. Practicing the above steps and experiencing the benefits with small issues will help you be more confident when you must ask for help for a bigger issue. Asking for assistance is appropriate, acceptable, advantageous and even advisable because it increases credibility and demonstrates self-confidence. Why, then, would you hesitate to ask for help?

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