A Leader’s Guide to Asking for Support

How do people develop into transformational leaders? Is it through coaching? Training? Educating?

According to Bank of Maroda Chairman Ravi Venkatesan in his insightful piece Building leadership: Unleash the disrupters, it’s none of those things:

“To develop leaders, you have to take young talent and throw them into challenges far bigger than they are ready for. Repeatedly. These challenges become the crucibles in which their leadership capability gets forged with the right mentoring and inputs. When it comes to developing leaders, nothing else works: not coaching, not training, not expensive programs at Harvard. Transformational experiences are essential if you want transformational leaders.”

A key element of Venkatesan’s guidance?

“…the right mentoring and inputs.”

The truth is, regardless of our tenure as leaders or the vastness of our experience, none of us can take our work to the next level without ‘the right mentoring and inputs’ from others. Even the most seasoned among us needs support to accomplish anything meaningful.

One of the biggest mistakes that I have made (and seen others make) is not asking for support when I needed it.

Does this resonate with you? Can you remember a time when you hesitated to ask for help? Have you ever tried to ‘go it alone’ when you found yourself in over your head? Overextended? Overwhelmed? Uncertain?

I know I have. I can recall a few critical moments when I should have reached out for support, but didn’t. Most often it was because I feared imposing. The voice in my head said, ‘They’re too busy. I don’t want to take advantage. I don’t want to inconvenience.’

Other times I wasn’t even sure what support I needed. Therefore, how could I possibly know what to ask for?

And, at times, I feared being misunderstood.

Fear can be a powerful barrier to asking for support. Has fear ever stopped you from reaching out? Held you back from tapping into a resource? Have you ever feared you wouldn’t be seen as strong or capable? Have you feared that, through admitting you needed backup, you’d erode trust in your ability to lead?

Have you feared asking for support would mean you’d place a burden on somebody else?

I’ve had the privilege to work with thousands of leaders all over the world. I’ve also been brought into their inner circles and worked closely with the people they’ve led, their bosses, and their peers. Through this experience, I’ve discovered that asking for support doesn’t erode trust in one’s leadership…it actually builds it.

Reflect on a time when someone tapped into you. Perhaps you provided guidance on specific skill development. Maybe you provided perspective to support a difficult decision. Maybe you just sat quietly and listened, giving the other person room and permission to be ‘messy’ in the creative process of problem solving.

Or, maybe you rolled up your sleeves and helped with the work itself. Sometimes, to support the growth of the organization, it’s simply a matter of ‘all hands on deck.’

Ask yourself, when you were asked to offer support to someone eager to contribute at the highest levels – did your trust in that other person diminish? Did you think less of them?

Or, did you feel inspired to lift them up and support them to achieve what you saw possible? Did you gain greater insight into what you had to offer, as a leader?

Through providing meaningful support, did your level of self-trust ebb…or expand?

I’d imagine you experienced the latter. The person giving support can benefit as deeply as the person receiving it. To both parties, support offers gifts: sharpened skills, sophistication of thought…and stronger trust.

Recently, I tapped into a colleague to gain her point of view on a business dilemma I was facing. Now, this is a really busy lady with a schedule that could choke a horse. As our call was coming to close, I said to her, ‘I know how slammed you are, thank you for making time.’ Her reply?

‘No, thank you, Michelle. I am honored.’

Don’t estimate for a moment the value of tapping into another person. When you ask, your very ‘ask’ communicates, ‘I trust you.’

Given the benefits of support, you can see the importance of asking for it the next time you need it. Yet, how can you ask for it effectively?

Here, I can help – through a guide to support you when you need to ask for support:

Give yourself permission. First, give yourself permission to have the conversation. Have faith that what you’re trying to accomplish has value to the world, and that the support you need will be provided. Remember, others will benefit from the support you receive. Support will pay dividends for others!

Make a connection. To begin the conversation, make a personal connection. Ask questions. Get a sense of the other person’s well being, both professionally and personally. Reconnect and get tuned in to one another.

Provide context. Lay out the story. Let them know what you’re grappling with and what you’re looking for. It may be that the support you’re asking for isn’t truly the support you need. In providing the ‘surround sound’ of your request, you may trigger the other person’s creative ideas for different, higher value. You’ll gain a purview of possibilities you may not have considered.

Make the request. Summon your courage, and ask for the help you need. Let the other person make the decision about what they can most appropriately do for you. A worst-case scenario is that they’ll guide you to someone else.

Be honest. This is a critical element. Say, ‘As I ask for this support, I have to be honest with you. I’m not sure about what I’m asking. Am I asking for too much? Is there something else I should be asking for?

Keep an open mind. What you ask for may not be what you receive. Remain open to what the other person offers. Over time, you may discover more value in what’s given than you at first realized.

Express Appreciation. Close with sincere appreciation. If you’ve picked up on an opportunity you have to provide support, offer it. If not, ask! Like trust, support is reciprocal: the more you give, the more you get in return.

In my experience, when asked for support, people will give more than we ask for. When we make assumptions about what others may or may not be willing to give, we not only rob ourselves of their gifts, we rob them of the joy and satisfaction of giving.

In the spirit of support,
Michelle Reina

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