I was on my hands and knees on the ground by the pond. Blood was dripping in a steady stream off of my head, forming a puddle on the deck. I had initially thought I had just bumped my head and that I would have an egg in the morning, but as I touched the injury with my right hand, it immediately felt wet. There was nothing I could do to stop the bleeding and taking the long walk back to the house where there would be towels would mean tracking blood everywhere. I was going to need help to get the bleeding stopped and may even need a trip to the emergency room.
I had to laugh at myself a bit, I was at a retreat in North Carolina to work on my Coaching and Leadership skills, and earlier that day I realized I needed to work on asking for help and now here I was with a perfect opportunity to practice.
I called out somewhat weakly, “I need some help here.”
I felt shame, shame for having created a situation where I needed help. Only a few minutes earlier I had been inside, and I told a few people that I was going to get the fire going and I told them I didn’t need help. Everything was going fine as I collected the supplies in the dark until I hit my head.
I have always been independent and self-taught. Most of my progress in the early part of my career was from me learning things on my own. Of course, I had help and mentors along the way, but I was always fortunate to have people offer to help me. I did not have to ask for help often. It became part of the story I told about myself: I am self-sufficient, resilient, and I could depend on myself.
As I transitioned into leadership, I had to depend on others, and I had to make requests and to delegate tasks. With delegation, I was asking people to share the work, and I was helping others have a role and to grow their skills, responsibilities, and capabilities. For some reason, I saw asking for help as something different. As a leader, wasn’t I supposed to be able to do my job without help?
Sitting by the fire, cleaned up, and holding gauze to my head, I began to reflect. Is delegating that different from asking for help? Aren’t we always looking to share the work so that we can make sure that we get the most critical work done? Aren’t we continually trying to maximize each persons’ impact by having them focus on what they can do best? Isn’t it all about learning together and working together as a team?
And it occurred to me that the act of leading requires being of help and asking for help. A leader needs to be able to support the team by giving the help they need and be able to ask for help from the team. As a leader, asking for help is vulnerable, and it is precisely the sort of vulnerability that great leaders possess.
In the end, with my head wound, I was helped by quite a few people (including a doctor who was in the training). They were all happy to be able to help, just like I have been whenever someone has asked me for help. It was a painful lesson, but I am sure that I will remember it, and I am happy to ask others to help me remember.