You know people like this at the office.
They always seem to be having fun. They’re social butterflies, engaging everyone, moving cube to cube, talking, smiling, laughing and generally just enjoying being at the office. You can’t imagine how they get any work done. But they turn out to be one of the most productive and highly regarded people in the company. It’s annoying right?
Want to know how they do it?
They get help.
Many high achievers worry that asking for help is a sign of weakness. That they must do everything on their own otherwise others may believe they’re not up to the job.
Some think that if you want something done properly, you just have to do it yourself.
Ambitious women, especially, have this feeling that asking for help will somehow indicate that they’re not as good as their male counterparts. They’re afraid to come off as whiners.
This type of thinking is self-defeating and a barrier to your career growth.
Doing everything on your own sucks precious time into the black hole of grunt work.
Asking for help i.e. delegating, on the other hand, actually reflects leadership qualities. First, it shows that you can influence others to follow you. Secondly, it reflects your ability to manage and motivate others. Finally, it gives you the opportunity to think strategically on best use of your time for high visibility.
Robert Greene, in his The 48 Laws of Power, writes:
Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed … Never do yourself what others can do for you.
The key, however, is to make sure you go about it the right way.
Robert Greene goes on to say:
There is an art to asking for help, an art that depends on your ability to understand the person you are dealing with, and not to confuse your needs with theirs.
It’s never a good idea to just blindly ask help. You’re naive if you think that people will help you out of the goodness of their heart. Everyone around you is there for the same reason – they want to grow their careers. So they have to believe that by helping you, they’re also helping themselves. You’ll never get someone’s best effort and quality if they think they’re doing you a favor.
To do this right, you’ll need to put your soft-skills to work.
Appeal to their self-interest
If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.
– Robert Greene
Before you make the approach, do your homework. Find out what’s important to the other person and how helping you will benefit them. If they’re ambitious, you can offer to get them visibility by public recognition of their contribution. Or offer to share credit on the end-result if they make significant contributions. It could be as simple as an email thanking them for their crucial contribution, also including their manager in the CC. Not only will they happily accept, they will work their ass off to ensure you get the best quality.
For some others, you may have to offer quid pro-quo i.e. something in return. It could be a promise to help them on their next project or help them solve a problem they have today. Sometimes, people are motivated by external issues. Maybe you can offer to cover for them when they have to duck out for personal reasons. Or you can offer to help them look for a car, or house or even move.
Basically, if you can ensure that the other person is helped by helping you, you’re in.
Caution: It goes without saying that money and sex should never be a part of the conversation. Don’t offer money in return for help. It cheapens everything.
Similarly, never, ever, never (seriously, don’t even think about it) offer sex or anything closely related to sexual stuff in return. It makes you cheap and complicates things.
Set them up for success
Always make sure you’re asking the right person for help. The person’s expertise should match with what you’re asking them to do. Asking the marketing girl to help you with financials is probably a bad idea. It’s just not her expertise. Asking her to jazz up your PowerPoint is probably a better way to go.
It’s also best to do as much of the legwork and prep as possible before you hand over the task. Clearly communicate your expectations and deadlines. Then be available to help them along the way. Otherwise if things go wrong, they’ll throw you under the bus by proclaiming that you set them up for failure. You’ll be stuck redoing their work on top of your own. Set them up for success by making sure that all the guesswork and pre-work is done, especially if it’s not their area of expertise.
Check up on them often.
Not in the annoying “Hey, are you done yet?” way but more in the “Hey, I’m just checking to see how you’re doing. Can I help in any way?”
Offer to help as much as possible. Help them overcome challenges. Connect them with others who can help with other parts of the puzzle. Facilitate. Facilitate. Facilitate. This way, not only do you ensure their success, you guarantee your success.
Who doesn’t love a pat on the back?
After getting the help you need, make sure to thank your co-worker as much as possible. Make it clear to them and their manager that you could not have completed your part without their input.
Go out of your way. Be genuine.
Give them more credit than they deserve. It won’t hurt you at all.
Nurture the relationship
Don’t you hate those friends and family members that reach out to you only when they need something?
Same goes for work colleagues.
By asking for and accepting a colleague’s help, you’ve created a relationship with that person. They now see you as a partner to their career and as someone they can trust. It’s your responsibility to build on that by checking up on them from time to time. Even if it is to reach out just to say hello.
They will gladly come back to help you again.
And this … is good for your career.