Asking for Help is a Sign of Strength

Posted by Mark Kaminski on Mar 18, 2015

photoI grew up on a family farm in Central Indiana, the oldest of nine children between two families. My father and uncle both had full time jobs, so at an early age I learned to work hard and be a leader for my siblings and cousins. The farm culture dictated that "asking for help is a sign of weakness," so if you ran into a problem you were expected to gut it out and solve the problem yourself.

 I began my professional career without the knowledge, skills and experience I would need to solve every problem on my own.  This meant that I needed to learn the social skill of ALWAYS asking for help. I had to change the way I looked at problem situations from the way I was raised to a new understanding: "ASKING FOR HELP IS A SIGN OF STRENGTH."

 We often forget to "invite" people to contribute. This important process sets the expectation: “You are a valuable contributor who is essential for us to be successful and achieve our purpose.”   

Early in my career I needed my team to help solve a really critical issue that was causing our business to produce inconsistent quality and miss delivery dates to our customers. Once the problem had been solved, I took the opportunity to address the group and thank and recognize the many people who helped me. After I finished explaining how each one of them had brought a perspective and solution that I could not have even conceived of on my own, I asked for questions. John, who was one of the people who had made a significant contribution, stood up and said a few words that deeply touched my soul. He said, "Mark, thanks for asking, I have worked here for thirty years and it's the first time someone has asked me to help!"

I want to share a few basic tools that have really worked for me:

 Define the context. Describe in the greatest detail possible the challenges you are facing. Construction business challenges, for example, might have to do with permits, construction site, materials, blueprint and plans, weather, cost estimates, construction hours, time of expected or promised completion, etc.

  1. Define the purpose for the team. For example, “Complete this building by December 2014 with zero accidents on budget and on time”.

  2. Engage your colleagues and team to help identify and list the critical issues that must be solved in order to achieve the purpose. A critical issue is defined as something you MUST SOLVE in order to achieve your purpose. For example, a critical issue might be safety in the workplace. A solution would be daily safety meetings to review work hazards. Who could be better to contribute and solve this problem than the people who are at risk?

 There is a story about three people laying bricks at a work site. The contractor walks up to the first worker and asks, “What are you doing?” The worker replies, “Can't you see I am laying bricks?” Then he asks the same question to the second worker who answers, “Can't you see I am building a wall?” The contractor then and asks the third worker, “What are you doing?”  This man pauses for a second. A huge smile appears on his face, and with a twinkle in his eye he responds, “I am building the most beautiful cathedral in the state of California.  People will enjoy this special space for centuries.  I feel so blessed to be able to contribute my skills to this great building.” The third worker has both the context and purpose and understands his contribution to the overall purpose. Which of the three bricklayers do you want on your project?

Try these simple tools, and then let me know the success that you achieve by just inviting your team to contribute.

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