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Should more managers ask for help?

Paul Matthews

Asking for help

When you’ve got a tough task to tackle, asking for help can be the difference between success and failure. Paul Matthews from People Alchemy explains why you should ask for help

When you last had a big decision to make, or a project to do like remodelling your bathroom or buying a new car, did you seek help?

You probably asked around people you knew for advice. You probably also sought out people who you didn’t yet know, but who you felt could contribute to your success.


Because we all know that we are not experts in everything, and as soon as we stray outside our area of expertise, we know that we will be more successful if we utilise the expertise of others.

It is human nature for us to find out more information about something we want to do. And it is also human nature for us to be selective about the people we contact for help, whether that is via a conversation, or finding something they have written like a blog or a book. We look for things like experience, reputation, and success in the same kind of endeavour.

We do this automatically in our private lives, and we do this at work, if we are allowed to. And therein lies the problem in many workplaces. The culture and the rules and the systems often stop us doing what comes naturally to us, and leave us without a robust support mechanism.

How well are you equipped at work with access to tools and information that help you get done what you are asked to do? Do you have access to social media, or communities of practice where you can ask questions? Is it okay to spend some time talking with a colleague, or is this seen as idle chitchat and frowned upon? Or are you pretty much left to your own devices, to sink or swim?

Surround yourself with experts

Our ability to do the tasks that are delegated to us is often as dependent on what surrounds us, as it is dependent on what is within us. By that I mean that we can bring what is already within us to a task, and this includes things like knowledge, skills, our attitude, our intellectual capacity, and also physical things like dexterity and strength. But how often is it the case where we have within us everything we need to do the job, and yet our ability to do it is thwarted by what surrounds us in terms of systems, tools and so on.

How many times have you had a job in front of you which you know you can do, but you are unable to do because something in your environment creates barriers to your capability? Frustrating, isn’t it?

We would far rather succeed than fail, and that is why it is so frustrating when despite our own abilities, we are still rendered incapable of doing a job. What is perhaps even worse is that we get branded as someone who is underperforming, and it isn’t our fault!

And then to add insult to injury, we get sent on a training course to rectify our inability to perform. Has this ever happened to you? So what is the answer?

The first thing to do is realise that the capability of someone to do a task they are delegated depends on a whole range of factors, many of which are not related to, and are outside the control of the person trying to do the task.

Look to their environment for the existence of any barriers that are stopping them doing the task. The best way to do this is simply to ask them what they find frustrating in their work. The things that frustrate them will be barriers to them performing effectively.

Follow that question on frustration up with a second question to ask them what they now tolerate that used to frustrate them. Often we grow numb to those things around us in the workplace that are robbing us of our ability to perform.

When you have identified the barriers, you will in turn be able to identify who is able to destroy those barriers, and allow people to get on and do what they are being asked to do.

Think of it this way, if there is a brick in front of a wheelbarrow, it is far easier to go round the brick or remove it then to try and push your wheelbarrow over it. So look for the bricks that are stopping progress, because it is so much easier to remove them then try and force progress.

Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, as well as management development and employee performance support. He is the author of “Informal Learning at Work: How to Boost Performance in Tough Times” and blogs online


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