Asking for Help

About the last thing achievers ask for is help, yet it’s often the best strategic move you can make. If you do it right, you’ll get better results, those who help you will feel good about their efforts, and others will learn more about you.

When you make requests, the onus is upon you to know what you want and to express it in a way that makes sense. Resist the urge to make blanket requests; instead, think strategically about who is best able to help you in specific areas. (By the way, this goes for job transitions too.) Usually people make requests but in a very vague way, e.g., “I’m looking for a job in marketing,” “I’d like another senior position with a good company,” or “I’d like to work somewhere close to home.” While all of these statements may be true, they don’t give others enough direction to allow them to help you.

At work, identify who you think will be most helpful to you by considering what expertise is needed for your project, what your project has in common with past successes, and which coworkers can provide you with the political help you’re going to need to get the job done. If you’re not sure who fits the bill, identify those who will be able to advise and direct you.

Remember, you’re not asking anyone to do your job, you’re asking for a specific contribution, so be sure to clarify your expectations. Make it easy for people to help you by creating a short summary of your situation. Tell them why you are asking for input and then make the “ask.” Your request should be specific, clear, and actionable.

For instance, say you’re launching a product in another market for the first time. You might want to ask the team lead of the last successful launch what they wished they’d known during the launch. You could speak with someone who is an expert in the new market and ask what they believe is the biggest inaccurate assumption marketers make when dealing with that audience. You are gathering intel, learning from others, and making others appropriately aware of what you’re up to. Win-win-win.

Amanda Mitchell is an executive coach and strategist specializing in helping senior executives deal with disruptive drama within their teams. An advertising agency veteran, she experienced first-hand the business implications of corporate drama both with her Fortune 500 clients and within the Manhattan ad agency she led. She founded Our Corporate Life (www.ourcorporatelife.com) to help executives solve the problems no one wants to deal with. She has been published in Bloomberg Businessweek, and quoted in Fast Company, CNBC.com, and Monster.com. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

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