Sinem is the CEO of MAC-UK

Asking for help is one of the founding principles at MAC-UK. Everyone that joins the organisation, myself included, has to go through a rapid initiation process.

Suddenly you are surrounded by these really open and ‘dilemma sharing’ folk who are not shy about highlighting their own shortcomings.

In fact, doing so is like a badge of honour at MAC-UK; the more you role model ‘asking for help’ the better you are at your job. What a novel way to earn your stripes at work!

Many of us come from a world that is built on the idea that expertise is about ‘knowing’ or ‘showing’. To do that is to appear strong and capable. To do the otherwise is to appear weak and incompetent. Realising and accepting that the opposite is true is quite a challenge.

Asking for help as a leader

I’ve been reflecting on what it’s like to play the role of a CEO that is pushed by their colleagues regularly to get better at asking for help. I’m still learning from the best, the ones that opt to ask for help instead of go it alone - even if that means going slower, but ultimately it leads to a better result.

The knock-on-effect of asking for help is that more people have the courage to follow your lead and reach out when they’re stuck. That is a real gift if you think about it, not perpetuating the 'wing it' or 'struggle in silence’ structures that many of us exist in, but to reward help-seeking instead.

When asking for help works

Asking for help works best when it comes from an authentic place. It’s when I genuinely recognise that I don’t have all of the resources to solve something and that someone with a different perspective or skill-set would add value and challenge me too.

It also works best when I’m able to invest time in the process of working with someone to make the most of their help and when that time has been as much about building a relationship with the person as working together to produce the result.

Finally I have noticed that asking for help has been really powerful when I have been curious or courageous enough to do so at the most outrageous times or in the most unlikely situation. By outrageous and unlikely I mean for example asking for help in the middle of an ‘expert panel’ where my invitation in the first place was probably based on the idea that I would come with the answers, and when I’m in a position where people may be assuming or taking for granted that I’m supposed to be there to help them.

When it doesn’t work

I have fallen into the trap of sometimes forgetting or withholding the expertise that I do actually bring to the situation. What it reminds me is that when the greats ask for help well, it’s from a place of respecting that we all bring something to the solution, and that asking for help let’s us start a process to name and work out how to harness those many gifts

When under pressure, I’ve asked for help in the hope that someone will take the problem off my hands. The ‘do it for me’ version of asking for help undermines the whole point of a process that could, if done properly, make the end result both different and better, not just quicker and easier

It also often results in someone saying back to me “you should just do _” - thanks for the tip, but knowing what I should do doesn’t actually help me, it just highlights to me what I don’t know and can’t do.

I imagine that must be what young people must feel like when they hear, ‘do this’, ‘stop that’, or ‘do it better’. That won’t allow them to grow or realise their potential, it just reinforces a disempowering, failure / fear of failure narrative that keeps them trapped in a shame and stigma-ridden, non-help seeking world.

I’m learning that I’m getting closer if my attempts to ask for help, leads to a response that sounds like, ‘well, let’s do that together.’ That rare but golden suggestion is magic and if we mean it and really do ‘do it together’, I’ve yet to find a scenario where we didn’t both get value from the process, from each other and from the outcome. The stripes feel quite rewarding too.