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Founder's Corner #3: Ask For Help
With the monthly newsletter deadline getting closer, I was sorting through several ideas for May's Founder’s Post. From thoughts on volunteering, to the impact of well-organized meetings, I was vacillating on what would be the right topic.
In the end, it was an email from my life partner, Gabriel, that helped me make up my mind. He sent a link to an awesome post titled Stop Lying To Yourself: How To Change That Voice In Your Head by Leigh Newman who, turns out, is an author, the Deputy Editor of Oprah.com and clearly a great writer. Number one on her list of things we tell ourselves that a) aren’t true and b) keep us in a rut of our own making is “Asking people is too embarrassing,” which fit perfectly with my third topic idea for this month, ask for help. Decision made.
Ask For Help?
Yes, ask for help. After telling myself lies about how I can’t do [x], or that there’s no resources for blah blah blah, or I don’t know how to get this or that, I believe the second biggest obstacle I’ve created for myself (and Thunder) is that I’ll do it myself because (i) I can and/or (ii) I’ll look stupid if I ask for help.
This is true even after hearing one of the earliest words of advice I got when starting Thunder from our incredible accountant, Phil Wright. He told me early on, “Don’t do something just because you can…use your time wisely to make the greatest impact possible.” Sure, at the time, I took his advice and hired a bookkeeper for the company because he’s an accountant, so that’s what he’s talking about, right? Wrong! He was talking about much, much more. So much more that I’m constantly reminded every time I ask for help, I’m able to do more for myself and Thunder than I thought possible.
Here’s an easy example. I like working with clients and on interactive campaigns. Overall, that’s a good thing, given what Thunder does. But inevitably I experience what I call “campaign creep.” That’s what happens when I get too involved in campaigns, and before I know it, I’m spending more time managing campaigns than managing a business. I’ve now learned that when this happens, I ask for help to get something campaign-related off my plate, and then I’m able to focus on initiatives and things that help the entire company.
Which brings me back to why I sometimes don’t ask for help in the first place. I think deep down most of us don’t ask for help because we’re afraid we’ll look stupid or that we’ll look like we don’t know what we’re doing. To be fair, I’m not talking about asking for directions here.
I’m also not talking about things that we can find the answer to on Google. I’m talking about goals that can be personal and professional…the big goals. Typically these are the ones that we need the most help with but are also when we’re the least likely to ask for help.
Ask For Help When It Matters Most
Here’s an example from Thunder how asking for help put resources into motion toward accomplishing some very big goals for the company, as well as created clarity of vision and direction, and also led to company-wide buy-in.
Like any company, Thunder grapples with the “cobbler’s shoe” scenario in that our website isn’t all that we know it could be. We’re super proud of our blog but our website doesn’t accurately reflect all that we do, which in turn influences the type of client we attract and, potentially, the general perception other companies and people have of us. We’ve known all of this for awhile now and finally last month decided to get organized and ask for help.
We brought in an old friend of the company and web project manager extraordinaire, Susan Rust, to help us organize ourselves. Keep in mind that we’re in the business of helping clients identify their primary objectives, develop a strategy for achieving those goals, and then executing on that strategy to achieve measureable results. We should be able to figure out this website thingy ourselves, right? Well, we’re a talented group of people so we probably could, but we’re not a web design company so this really was new to us, at least as a group. Asking for help was a big step forward.
Help Will Always Be Given [At Hogwarts] To Those Who Ask For It
Susan got us started with a kick-off meeting that ended with some clear deliverables and next steps. Great! Now, our issue was who is going to do what? As anyone who’s relaunched a website knows, it’s a big effort and a lot of work. Meanwhile, the website isn’t the only initiative that we wanted to accomplish. We’ve been accumulating a great list of “want to’s” but no priority or plan to identify where to start and who would do what. What’s more, work had already started on several initiatives that weren’t getting finished, which was leading to people feeling inertia and wasted effort.
As the CEO I was torn because I knew all of these initiatives would make a big impact on how the company grows and develops. At the same time, I knew that people were feeling stretched and also unclear about their priorities. Feeling the pressure, the little voice in my head went to town “saying” that to be a good leader, I should simply choose what the priorities are, delegate who does what and move this ship forward. Well, that little voice was on a roll, but I knew that wasn’t the best way forward and, anyone who knows me, it’s not really my style. In fact, I was more at risk of the opposite dilemma of not identifying the priorities and meanwhile fretting about how to get this done without actually asking anyone what they think or how we might do it, resulting in even more wasted efforts and growing frustration for everyone involved.
At this time, it became crystal clear that I was being plain stupid. 'Nuff said. All I needed to do was ignore that annoying voice and ask for help. In fact, who better to help with this situation than the extraordinary group of people I work with.
So, we held a company meeting and, standing in front a blank whiteboard, I explained that there’s a lot of great initiatives to move Thunder forward, and I have my ideas of which ones are most important, but that doesn’t really mean anything unless everyone is on board and on the same page. I then asked to have an “open meeting” where everyone could contribute what they think is the most important thing to do to support Thunder’s growth as a company. Everyone gave their ideas which were written on the whiteboard. I added mine last. We quickly came up with a great list of priorities for Thunder. Here’s a shot of the whiteboard.
As you can/might be able to see, we ended up with 8 initiatives we believed to be very important for Thunder. In the spirit of threes, I then asked if everyone agreed that we only select three at this time. Once we accomplish one, we can fill in the open slot with the next priority and so on until all of them are done. We all agreed. As a group we decided on the following three near-term priorities:
- Website Relaunch, including the four sub-initiatives of (i) content, (ii) design, (iii) build-out and (iv) on-page optimization
- Thunder Mission & Branding
- Thunder’s Friday Workshops
We also designated a lead for each of these initiatives and identified a support team for each. Talk about asking for help. With this simple request, we identified (i) Thunder’s near-term priorities, (ii) the leader for each initiative and (iii) the support team for each. Wow! I was beyond excited and thrilled that we did this as a team. In some ways, we asked ourselves for help.
I Would Ask For Help But It’s Faster To Just Do It Myself
If the first trap is fear of looking stupid, then the second trap of not asking for help might be the misperception that it’s better if I just do it myself cuz I know how to do it…and it’ll be faster that way. Right? Wrong!
While sometimes it does make sense to just get 'er done, in most instances it’s more impactful to show someone how to do something than to go at it alone. This not only helps empower more people but it also takes the pressure off of being the only person who can do something. What’s more, this has the ripple effect of making a stronger organization (or team), and it might also reveal that someone else can improve (gasp!) on what I’m doing now. I run the risk of sharing an overly-used online quote, but I think this one really does sum up what I’m talking about: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (African Proverb – I can’t vouch for this but it’s the only source I could find.)
The Sooner The Better
I’m guessing by now you’re getting the idea and why ask for help is italicized every time.
I’m continually amazed at what we can accomplish when we ask for help. There are so many people and resources eager and willing to help us, no matter how large or small our goals. It all starts with asking for help. And, in case you haven’t already guessed this next part, it’s an awesome feeling when help comes your way…and even more so when we can offer it back too.
So, what are you waiting for? Is there anything personal, professional or whatever that you could ask for help with? You’ll be glad you did.
P.S. Yes, I'm a Nemo and Harry Potter fan.
Read all of Max's Founder's Corner posts.