The advice I find I have to give more frequently than any other in my career
as a manager, a board member, an advisor, and a friend is for people to more
directly leverage their leaders.
Too often I see someone who is responsible for accomplishing an important goal
doing the best they can in the face of immense odds. It may sound
counterintuitive, but the mandate of such a job is not to “do the best you
can.” It is to get it done. And if the way to get it done is to ask for
help, then that’s what you should do.
I relate strongly to the instinct many of us have to do things ourselves rather than involve others. We don’t want to bother them. If we’re being honest, we
don’t want to have to. We may worry how it reflects on us. We may worry it
means we are failing. But my experience in leadership tells me the exact
opposite is true. Someone who tells me when things are going
poorly is someone I am going to trust
relative to someone who struggles in silence.
There are a reasonably large class of problems for which the asymmetry of
leadership involvement makes involving them at key times a good value.
Consider the case where one team is struggling to get engagement with another.
This might be the kind of situation where the teams could meet a dozen times
without making much progress, but a few words from the right leader clarifying
overall priorities unblocks the log jam. This is a great use of everyone’s
time! And as a bonus it gives the leader the opportunity to debug why it was
necessary to involve them and hopefully prevent such need in the future.
Of course not all problems can be solved so easily, but that doesn’t make it a
poor use of the leadership time to engage. Maybe the problem was harder than
we realized, maybe it required a different skill set, maybe it needed more
authority; whatever the problem, it is good to be open with it so everyone can
set expectations appropriately. In an ideal world everyone would be operating
under conditions that allowed them to succeed on their own, but until we
manage to create such a world loop you should do whatever you must to get it
done, even if that means asking for help.