The reading level for this article is All Levels

For many of us, asking for help is a difficult concept.  It can require a certain amount of vulnerability.  We may feel as if we are admitting a weakness that the world would not have known about, had we not asked for help.


Ironically, it’s been my experience that people who are able to deliver well-positioned requests for help are seen as very strong individuals.  When they demonstrate the humility to ask for help, they earn the respect of others.  Recipients of a heartfelt request for help are usually honored by the request.  In turn, we are strengthened by the very help that is provided.


One of my clients (we’ll call her Kira), recently made a shift in how she was interacting with her boss.  When asked to prepare presentations, she assumed that she was expected to go away, develop the content, deliver it at the required meeting and then wait for feedback from her boss.  Her boss was highly-regarded for the impact of his presentations, while Kira often felt that her presentations were lacking.  When she took a hard look at how this approach was working for her, Kira was able to recognize that she was not fully leveraging her boss’s support.  She could learn far more about creating presentations with "oomph" by walking-through a draft with her boss—focusing on the content plus her delivery—and obtaining feedback earlier in the process rather than at the back-end.  So&ldots;she made the request for his upfront support.


The outcome?  Her boss was delighted to coach Kira and was enthused about the opportunity to leverage his own strength by imparting presentation skills more effectively to her.  By taking the time to work together on preparation for a number of Kira’s key presentations, she benefited from her boss’  thought process and was able to distinguish the critical components to enhance her own presentations.  Kira’s presentations now have punch!  She delivers with the confidence of someone who has great material and is well-prepared. She now rarely needs corrective feedback after-the-fact.  Equally important is that in the very act of asking for help, Kira has demonstrated to her boss that she is effectively leveraging resources around her. 


How are your assumptions about the appropriateness of asking for help getting in your way?


Some of us are uncomfortable asking for help because we believe that our request places burden on the other person.  Ironically, we may be missing an opportunity to show others’ how we value and respect them.  People who know you and think well of you, are often highly motivated to help—and with the reality of their busy work lives, they need to be asked.  Furthermore, the more specific you can be about what you need from them, the easier it is for them to assist you.


In the past week, how have you asked for support from others?  How clear was your request?


In recent research I conducted into the behaviours that leaders demonstrate when they successfully transition into new organizations, "asking for help" made it onto the list of "Top 10 Success Factors" for the critical first 90 days with a new employer.


In this era of hyper-awareness regarding business ethics, "asking for help" has become associated with high-integrity.  People who are able to conduct an honest self-assessment and seek support in the areas where they lack expertise or need to draw on skills that don’t come naturally to them are seen as both humble and strong at the same time.


As an sole practitioner entrepreneur for the past 10 years, I have long prided myself on independence and self-sufficiency.  I now recognize that relying purely on my own perspective and expertise can be quite limiting.  In stepping up to ask for help more often, coupled with my commitment to work collaboratively, my circle expands exponentially through each connection created. The impact on my business has been nothing short of transformational.


So how can you go about asking for help?


When I broke-down the formula that works for me, I came up with the following steps:


1.       Recognize that you can’t know or be able to do absolutely everything, all the time.

2.       Trust that in asking for help, you are honouring the other person.

3.       Decide to "‘just do it".  The more you agonize, the less likely you are to make the request.

4.       Be specific.  Make it easy for the other person to provide the help.

5.       Express your gratitude.  Let the other person know specifically how their support helped you.

6.       Offer your sincere support in the future&ldots; not to "even the score", do it because it genuinely means a lot to you to be able to help.


What important goal are you stuck on right now?  How could "asking for help" get you jump-started?



I’m interested in hearing your stories about the impact of "asking for help" for you.  Send me an email with your feedback or questions to

This Personal Development article was written by Sue Edwards on 7/15/2005

Susan Edwards is President of Development by Design, a Business & Leadership Coaching and Human Resources Consulting firm. Her Coaching clients are high potential leaders and profitable business owners who are redefining the terms of their success and taking their impact to a new level. She consults to Fortune 500 companies and smaller entrepreneurial organizations who are also committed to creating extraordinary impact with their customers, employees and shareholders. One of the niches of her practice is supporting new leaders and senior professionals in successfully transitioning into new organizations and “clearing the 90-day hurdle”. She is authoring a self-coaching workbook to support people in effectively navigating this transition. Visit Sue at