I discovered early in my career that I did not know everything and if I wanted to succeed I would need the help of others. I also learned, much to my surprise and delight that: if thou ask…thou shalt receive.
And so I asked. Early and often. I asked for help in developing strategies. I asked for career advice. I asked for introductions to others who could help me. And, I received more than I could have imagined.
One particular ask was especially memorable for me. I was about to become the Chair of a not-for-profit board after a short eight months as a director. I was trepidatious to say the least.
There was a very senior woman in my organization with a ton of experience on boards (both for- and not-for-profit). She was a powerful and respected leader at my company and honestly, I was slightly terrified of her.
One day at the end of a meeting, I swallowed my fear and approached her. I explained my situation and asked if I could have half an hour of her time. She readily agreed. The half hour meeting turned into one and a half hours of the best coaching I ever had. I learned volumes about good governance, the roll of a not-for-profit board, and the role of the Chair in that one conversation that was hugely beneficial for me. And the icing on the cake - I got to know a fantastic leader on a different level.
The moral of this story: don’t be afraid to ask for help! No matter your IQ, your tenure, your knowledge and skill, there is much that can be learned from others. Seek out those people whose expertise and thought processes complement yours. They may be in your organization or in your external network. They may even be in your family (case in point – my sister proof read this for me!)
Also know that there are right ways to ask. Here are a few recommendations that will help to ensure your success.
1) Have a specific request. Don’t ask for a meeting to discuss “your career”. Some examples of specific requests include:
I would like to understand the skills and experience needed to obtain ABC role.
I would like to get your feedback/input on a strategy/project I’m working on.
I would like to understand the best way to work with your group.
I want to learn about (fill in the blank with that person’s expertise)
2) Prepare for the meeting with well thought out questions.
3) Send a follow up and thank you note. Keep the person informed of your progress and let them know how their help made a difference.
4) Keep all confidential or personal information to yourself! Even if you think they must share with others, keep it to yourself. If in doubt, keep it to yourself!
And lastly, pay it forward. Remember all the people that helped you and be open to helping those that have the courage to ask. It’s good karma and it feels great to help someone else succeed!