The Hardest Part Of Leadership Is Asking For Help And Taking It

Leaders who learn the art of the ask perform at a higher level than their peers who don't. Every leader should practice asking for help.

Photo: Ken Gosnell, CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience); Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Ken Gosnell, CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience); Source: Courtesy Photo

Leaders often try to lead alone – a critical mistake. No great leader every led alone, yet enlisted the help of a team to enact the vision and bring it to completion.

Delegation is one of the most useful and powerful tools for leaders who wish to lead well. The art of the ask is a more robust form of delegation.

Leaders who wish to lead with others will learn how to ask others for help. They know how to engage their people in a way that helps them focus on essential tasks while using all the strengths and abilities of their people. Former President Theodore Roosevelt once famously stated, “The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

Every good leader would agree with President Roosevelt’s thoughts. However, in a recent experience with a group of executives, close to 85% stated they hardly ever asked others for help to complete their leadership work. With this fact in mind, it is no wonder that many leaders race around starved for time and only accomplish things that they can do themselves.


Leadership and the art of the ask

Leaders who learn the art of the ask perform at a higher level than their peers who don’t. Every leader should practice asking for help. It’s time to enlist others to effectively to reach maximum performance.


1. Ask for help that requires you to trust others

It is often hard for leaders to ask for help in areas they feel are essential for the organization. Delegation fails because people feel like the task they have been given is not an important task. Booker T. Washington stated, “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.”

Experience Question: When was the last time you trusted your people with a critical project or task?


2. Ask for help on tasks that benefit from full release

Leaders who delegate tasks without authority end up being responsible for the tasks. A proper “ask” and delegation involve transferring the task entirely to another where they are released to complete the task as they see fit.

Photo: Bruno van der Kraan, YFS Magazine

When leaders ask others for help but hold onto the ultimate authority to make decisions, it will increase the chances of the team to bring the work back to the leader and cause upward delegation. A better way is to ask for the help of others and then release the task completely.


3. Ask for help in areas where you desire partnership

It’s a mistake to only ask for help from others on tasks nobody wants to complete. Smart leaders and effective delegators ask for help on meaningful and enjoyable tasks where they enjoy collaborating with others. They use the ask as a way to teach and train their teams while working on tasks that are mission-critical for the leader and the organization.

Sydney Finkelstein affirms this truth in his book SuperBosses by noting, “Superbosses are able to constantly and rapidly propel their proteges to new heights because they are the consummate delegators, relinquishing a degree of authority and oversight that would make many ordinary bosses cringe…with so much responsibility on their shoulders and a clear sense of accountability, not to mention the trust of their superboss, proteges come away feeling a sense of their own power and worth as if they are more like partners then subordinates.”


4. Ask for help with tasks where you can praise team effort and results

It is good to ask for help once, it is beautiful to ask for help often, and it is transformational to ask for help always. Leaders who ask for the help of others should be willing to praise the effort and results of those who accomplished the task.

Experience Question: What would it mean to your organization if you could effectively delegate consistently?


Asking others for help effectively and consistently might just be the hardest task for leaders. However, it is the most beneficial. Every leader should look to improve their effectiveness by developing their asking skills. These steps are a necessity for any leader who hopes to accomplish more than they could ever achieve on their own.


Ken Gosnell is the CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience). He serves leaders by helping them to have great experiences that both transform them and their organizations that enable to go further faster. He has worked with hundreds of CEOs and leadership teams to enhance strategic, operational and people accomplishments. He is an author, coach, and strategic partner with CEOs. Ken is the creator and facilitator of the Christian CEO Linkedin Group and creator of the CEO Experience Impact Assessment. He is married to Shonda, and they have four children. Connect with @ken_gosnell on Twitter.


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