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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Need Help? Leaders Know to Ask

    I work part-time teaching at Sacramento State University.  G (that's what I call her) is our department secretary and she is wonderful.  She gets things done, takes care of faculty and helps a lot of students.  My dad always said of his office secretary, "she runs the business, I just work here".  That's how I see G.  Knowing how busy she is I always try to avoid asking her for help or adding to her workload.  I'm just a part-timer, so I figure she has other things to take care of for other (full time) faculty.

    Recently, at a small get-together for a colleague's retirement, the retiree publicly thanked G for her help and devotion to the office and for helping him whenever he needed it.  I echoed his sentiments and then asked other faculty if they ever felt guilty about asking G to take care of things for them.  One person answered, 'absolutely' while others nodded.

    G sent me an email a few days later and here's what she said: "On Saturday you asked if anyone else in the room felt guilty when you ask me for help with something. Please don’t feel that way. I’m busy, but so is everyone else. Besides, it’s my job to help you and I’m happy to do it.  Helping you helps our students, and that’s why I’m here."  By not using G for things I need, I deny her the ability to do her job - to fulfill her position's purpose.  That makes perfect sense to me.  That said, I still get stuck on "am I giving her something I could easily handle myself " while trying to be sensitive to her workload and schedule.
    Nice guy, perhaps, but I failed in two areas. The first was in communication.  I'd always assumed she was too busy to help me, but never bothered to ask her if my need for her help was appropriate or an overloading her plate (turns out it is not). If I was really that concerned I should have asked her - even requested a time to talk so I could better understand what type of projects or tasks I could give her or the clerical staff.  

    The second failure was in delegating, but it's more than that.  One cannot simply view delegation as giving tasks to others, rather delegation should be viewed as giving others the opportunity to help you/the organization succeed.  By holding back on asking for G's help I did not allow her to help me succeed, which she clearly connected to an organizational goal when she said, " . . . it’s my job to help you and I’m happy to do it.  Helping you helps our students, and that’s why I’m here."  By not communicating I did not allow her the opportunity to contribute to my/our department's success, and by not delegating I devalued my role as an educator (which she values because of the positive impact it has on students).  

    In my day job I have several people are subordinate to me and I have no problem asking for their help because: 1) I want them to be part of our department's success; 2) I want them to gain experience and grow, and; 3) I genuinely need their help - often times because they have the knowledge or skills to do what I can't or don't know how to do.  I need to be able to do the same with G, as well as in other situations where I find myself in a leadership role.  

    In her article, Why Asking For Help Is One Of Your Greatest Strengths, Andria Corso says this ability "is a sign of great strength to not only admit that you are in need of help but also to accept help from others."  Trying to avoid burdening others demonstrates poor judgment and leadership; asking for help can be a powerful tool for including team members in the organization's success and is a strength that leaders need to develop.

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