Good leaders know that in order to spark and sustain change, you must have support. Yet, our society ironically holds “doing it on our own” in high esteem, even when it comes to leading and managing. We revere the strength it conveys to accomplish things alone, despite the often miserable journey.
Why is asking for support so taboo?
The criticality of asking for support takes both vulnerability and courage. In a 2011 HBR article, Peter Fuda and Richard Badham use a snowball metaphor to explore how leaders spark and sustain change. The snowball starts rolling when a leader is willing to be vulnerable with his or her subordinates. Their research shows that this act is predictably perceived as courageous by team members and inspires others to follow suit.
In Brené Brown’s, Daring Greatly, she tells the story of Clynton, the managing director of a large German enterprise. Clynton had a directive leadership style that was preventing his senior managers from taking initiative. Upon this realization, he stood up at an annual meeting of his top 60 managers, acknowledged his failings, admitted that he didn’t have all the answers, outlined both his personal and organizational roles, and asked his team for help leading the company. The outcome? Researchers report that Clynton’s effectiveness surged, “his team flourished, initiative and innovation increased, and the organization went on to outperform much larger competitors”.
“We simply can’t learn to be more vulnerable and courageous on our own. Sometimes our first and greatest dare is asking for support.” – Brené Brown
When’s the last time we witnessed an account like this in our organizations? Clynton could have changed his behavior privately, it would have been the easier, predictable route.
In 2012, my contract (aka. income source!) at a large tech firm was abruptly ending. My coach gave me a terrifying assignment: call 200 in people in 8 weeks and ask them to support you in pursuing your calling (we’d done a lot of discovery work to get to this place). My immediate thought was: you’re nuts! And my second thought was:Whoa. Finally I thought: Your contract ends in 8 weeks, trust this woman.
Talk about vulnerability! I was so nervous to share my true passion with professionals. Aside from my intuition, I didn’t have research to back up my idea. I knew of no job description that embodied the work I cared so deeply about. I just knew it needed to exist on the planet. So...I made every single call. At the end of 200, I’d connected executives at LinkedIn, Whole Foods, Google, Microsoft, Zappo’s, and Apple, to name a few. A few weeks later I was offered a full-time position with a higher title and double the salary. What started as an idea, became a reality because I had the courage to ask for support.
This week, dare greatly -- try on asking for support. Where do you desperately need it? In what hidden areas do you need it? Our organizations need you, our society needs you, and most importantly you need you. Remember, your courage is contagious!
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