One of my favorite interview questions is “both your boss and your boss’ boss need you to complete something and you can only do one, who’s do you complete”? It’s interesting to see people mentally work through the exercise and comprehend the question. The multitude of answers I have gotten over the years has been interesting, and few have been correct or at least the answer I believe is correct. The correct answer is at the end of this post. :D
Typically people get hired in an entry level position and work their way up to become some type of leader. Most organizations are actually pretty good at this progression. Along the way most individuals are taught to be increasingly, more and more independent, while increasing output dramatically. This progression typically spans a considerable amount of time; say 4 to 6 years going from junior, to mid, to senior before being considered for leadership.
Along the way you are rewarded for 1. Asking less and less questions, and 2. Needing less and less help. After years and years of being successful at this you get your big shot… a chance at leadership! With a sense of adventure and bump in salary you are thrown into the deep end to sink or swim. You are getting promoted to do more, much more of what has been asked of you to do less and less of for the last 6 years. Yeah, you might want to read that twice, in just a mere moment they did a complete 180 on you and you’re on your own to figure it out.
Now, it wouldn’t actually be that bad if they (your organization) would explain the new rules to you, but typically they don’t. Under normal circumstances you would be able to figure it out on your own, but remember you just came off of a career of learning to be independent. To make matters worse it’s likely you got promoted into a mini tornado, with everyone watching you like a hawk. There is a simple, very simple way out of all this… that will increase your chances of success dramatically. In fact once you become a leader it maybe your only true way to maintain good leadership. What is it?
Ask For Help! :D
You know you have become a leader, a true leader, and one that will last when you have figured out how to continually and sincerely ask for help. Asking for help… despite what some might tell you is a sign of strength, not weakness. Asking for help can be your best way of learning to become a leader and becoming a leader that people want to follow.
I am sure this starts at the point where we are little kids and manifests itself all the way to mid life crisis… most likely a lifetime. We have built crazy belief systems around the idea that we are supposed to always become independent and no longer need help. In fact there’s a great study that shows that new CEOs stop asking for help just 2 years after becoming hired, leading to weaker returns.
The interesting thing that I have found is that most people like to be asked for help… especially other leaders. They relish the opportunity to share their wisdom, give coaching tips and add to your personal success. I have been told on multiple occasions that the person helping me received more (learning/personal satisfaction) out of the help then I did (I helped them???). From a teaming standpoint being asked for help from a leader can be one of the most flattering and biggest confidence boosters ever.
While there might be some natural tendencies, business dogma and fear around asking for help, you know you have become a leader when it freely flows from you and you get good at it.
So I ask you... have you become a leader or are you still teaching yourself to swim? :D
ps… so you might have guessed it by now, the interview question above is actually a trick question. The correct answer or at least the answer I like best is “you do both by asking for help”. :D