MAY 2015


I fantasized holding a mug of hot tea, and gulping a mouthful to warm my core and my trembling hands as we slowly descended into the ice-cold waters of Ustica, a small island north of Sicily. Had I immersed myself in a tub of ice cubes I might have been warmer. Yet I was so excited.

I was experiencing my first cave dive. My diving buddy was the local guide who first discovered La Grotta dei Gamberi (shrimp’s grotto). Few divers visited because the depth was challenging (the dive started at 40mt/131ft and ended at 12mt/40ft), and cave diving requires special training.

Visibility was spectacular, exceeding 100mt/330 ft. As a result of the sea’s glacial temperature, I couldn’t spot a single particle of suspension that indicted we were underwater. Spellbound by what I saw, our descent resembled landing on the moon: the sea floor, like the lunar surface, was bright white, desolate, barren, and yet beautiful.

To the left loomed the underwater mountain. The cave’s entrance was at the bottom of the sea; exploring it would take us up through the inside of the mountain. According to our dive plan, at maximum depth, we had less than 9 minutes to reach the entrance of the cave and start our ascent to avoid risk of decompression illness. But first, we had to cross the distance of a football field. We steadily finned toward the monumental black entrance zone.

We crossed the threshold of the entrance chamber. Veering right, we finned into the adjacent cavern. I switched on the night diving torch as we approached a narrow passage leading to the dark zone, where daylight does not reach. My buddy gestured to me to go first so he could keep an eye on me.

I entered the tunnel and disappeared around a sharp bend. Suddenly, the torch died, and blackness overwhelmed me. My dormant fears of suffocation and claustrophobia were jolted awake. To avoid a panic attack and cranial injury, I quickly protected my skull from crashing against the surrounding rock by holding out my thumb and pinky vertically on the top of my head.

After what seemed an eternity, there was light. Approaching with caution, my buddy looked into my eyes. Pop-eyed with trepidation, I managed to form the hand signal for okay. But I was shaken and had lost confidence in my ability to lead the expedition. To mitigate risk, I pointed at him then ahead in a request for him to lead the way. He took hold of my right elbow in slow motion. Nodding, I accepted thankfully. Since I was perfectly buoyant, he was able to move me about like a weightless party balloon. We continued our ascent side-by-side.

– Mission accomplished –

We had completed the cave dive in safety, without endangering my buddy or myself, and enjoyed the experience stress-free because I had the confidence to recognize my limits and ask for help.

Think about a time when you experienced overwhelm or faced complications during a critical situation. Did you ask for help and accept assistance? Or did you ignore the reality of your limitations?

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. We develop, grow, and become strong in the areas we value, and avoid, diminish, and remain weak in the areas we don’t. Smart leaders know this, which is why they concentrate on their strengths and find ways to fill the gaps. Asking for help is rarely met with hesitation because:

  • Smart leaders have self-confidence. They don’t confuse asking for help with incompetence or ignorance. Since they trust in their abilities, qualities, and judgment, they perceive asking for help as a strength, not a weakness.
  • Smart leaders are realistic about what they can and can’t do. Because they are as aware of their limitations as they are of their strengths, they don’t waste their time doing what they know someone else can do better than them. Why jeopardize results or take on unnecessary stress when your weaknesses can be offset by others strengths?

For those who find it challenging to ask for help, here are two steps you can take to increase your ability to do so:

1. Boost your self-confidence. Poor self-confidence often results from comparing yourself to others instead ofowningyour genius. Ask trusted friends and peers for feedback regarding your gifts and strengths. Or work with a performance coach to own your uniqueness and accelerate achievement by unearthing hidden talents and/or connecting the dots.

2. Fully engage others. Just because you can do specific tasks (or no one does them the way you do) doesn’t mean you should do them. Leaders orchestrate results through others; they don’t play every instrument. Engage others to be part of the solution by providing opportunities for them to contribute.

When you learn to ask for and receive help, you provide professional development opportunities for others, enable people to feel good about helping you, and make your life easier. Most importantly, you empower yourself to be more successful. What are you waiting for Get smart? Ask for help.



How to Overcome the Reluctance to Ask for Help

Rather do it yourself than ask for help Discover why asking for assistance is appropriate, acceptable, advantageous–and even advisable for leaders. Read more

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“Think not what your organization can do for you, but what you can do for your organization today.”

Angie Katselianos

“It was very important for me to learn how to manage both professional and personal goals, for my life and career. Today, I have a family, I am responsible for a wider geographic region and I travel a lot. But I feel less stress and can better focus on targets. My performance has improved as well as my loyalty towards the company since the problem was not my employer but in my head.

Roy Marending
Head of Key AssetsIntrum Justitia,







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