You’re overwhelmed — so why won’t you ask for help?

February 26, 2015

Leading by doing — we could write the book. We see the big picture, organize the details, meet the deadlines, and never let them see us sweat.

Yep, we’re on top of it all the time…except when a task veers beyond our arsenal of expertise. But that rarely happens. And since we’re so good at figuring things out, we soldier on, on our own. Until we can’t.

Sometimes the task is too foreign, the time too short, the energy too finite to pull it off. And then we’re stuck acting like a Lone Leader, trying to operate without the necessary support.

There are at least three reasons a Lone Leader prefers to operate solo, even when overwhelmed. Knowing which one you’re prone to is the first step toward being able to issue an SOS. Take our mini-quiz to find out your tendency.

Lone Leader mini-quiz
First, think of a time when you were in over your head but didn’t ask for help. Then quickly answer the following three questions:

How did you Feel when you had more than you could handle?
A. Vulnerable
B. Overworked
C. Isolated

What did you Think when you had more than you could handle?
A. I hope no one checks on this until I figure it out.
B. I wish I could clone myself.
C. If I had more clout, maybe I wouldn’t have to do this by myself.

What did you Do when you had more than you could handle?
A. Googled, tried something, Googled, tried something else, Googled…
B. Made a superhuman effort to get things as right as possible.
C. Did your best, knowing it wasn’t what it could be.

If you chose mostly A answers, read about Opaque Leaders, below. Mostly Bs, you’re likely an Uneasy Leader. Cs are Hesitant Leaders. If you had a mix of letters, you’re a hybrid, which means you’ll find parts of yourself in all three types.

After you learn about your Lone Leader tendency — and maybe spend a few minutes reflecting on past examples of it — go to our Help Yourself printable worksheet for an exercise to help shift your perspective on getting help when you truly need it.

When you act like an Opaque Leader
You’ve got it covered — literally. Your veneer of competence is more than skin deep, and everyone knows it. But those tiny fissures of inexperience worry you. What if someone notices that you’re not 100% all that? Would you still be respected? Would you lose your position? Rather than chance it, you draw the shades around your weak spot and carry on like the impenetrable expert you believe you should be.

You need to see how asking for help is a sign of confidence. Never saying you’re sorry. Never admitting you’re wrong. All that tough-guy stuff is hooey. The courage to request assistance lets people see your human side, the one that says, “I know what I don’t know, and I know you can help me change that.”

Get the exercise: What confidence really looks like

When you act like an Uneasy Leader
You’re happiest when things are on a steady simmer and within reach. That way you can adjust as needed to ensure a good result. It’s when you can’t fully control the situation that misgivings arise. Will someone else make the same decision you would? Will quality suffer? Better to triple your own efforts, you reason, than risk compromise at the hand of another.

You need to think about accepting help as a way to make things better. The beauty of collaboration (a.k.a. help) is you get a whole new set of ideas to play with in addition to your own. That’s not compromise, that’s creativity in one of its best forms. Hey, did ever see what happened when a fine artist let her four-year-old finish some of her sketches?

Get the exercise: Discover the upsides of collaboration 

When you act like a Hesitant Leader
No one would accuse you of being high maintenance. You keep the wheels turning almost single-handedly without much need for applause. Thing is, when you could use some assistance you’re reluctant to sound the alarm. Will they think you’re a pest? Will they have bigger fish to fry? Will no one answer at all? The imagined consequence of rejection is enough to keep you from raising your hand.

You need to believe that others want to help. Ask someone to help you and they are instantly flattered. Beyond the initial ego-boost, your potential helper experiences a sense of validity and purpose. It’s almost like you’re doing them a favor.

Get the exercise: Find out why people want to help

DOWNLOAD THE PRINTABLE WORKSHEET: Help Yourself: How to get the assistance you need but won’t ask for

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