Learning to Ask for Help

Our mental model of leadership is one of the self-sufficient, all-seeing, all-knowing hero. We want leaders that are confident, so we can feel safe following them. Witness the bump in approval ratings for Barack Obama this week, after the announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden. 

But there is something wrong with our vision of the super confident hero leader.  Edgar Schein Professor Emeritus at MIT Sloan School of Management, thinks it is because we ignore the important role of helping in leadership. 

Our world has become so complex that we can’t possibly be experts on everything related to our organizations. As a leader, being able to say “I don’t know” is a critical skill.  Perhaps more important is to know when you don’t know. Our fixation with self-confidence has created a culture where leaders are blind to their own weaknesses.

After we accept that we don’t know everything, we then have to ask for help. Which is tricky.  Asking for help can often be perceived as weakness or incompetence in our society.

Let’s kill the idea that asking for help is a weakness. Let’s encourage the idea that helping others achieve their goals is a strength. Let’s learn to give “help that is actually helpful”. 

Source: Edgar H. Schein. “Helping: An Urgent New Role for Leaders”. Ivey Business Journal Online. London: Sep/Oct 2009


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