Why CEO’s Are Afraid to Ask for Help

It’s hard to ask for help when your ego is bursting at the seams.

If you’re a CEO, you’re probably known for a lot of things– decisiveness, a compelling vision for the future, tenacity, great yacht-buying skills– yet you’ve likely never been noted for your vulnerability. Being vulnerable means you’ve done something wrong or that you don’t know something, and you’re probably not very comfortable in the land of “I Don’t Know.” Since feeling vulnerable feels like being stark naked in front your all-team meeting, you’ve probably corrected the behaviors that lead to feeling naked– like asking people for help when you don’t have an answer or a perfect solution. You’ve probably gotten very good at not asking for help. But what if you could ask for help while still getting to keep your clothes on?

For the record, we’re not talking about the asking-for-help kind of fear that many managers have of delegation. (You know if you’re a crappy delegator if you don’t want to burden your team because they worked really hard last quarter, you don’t want to be seen as too bossy, you do it better yourself anyway and know it will take more time to explain how to do it to a doe-eyed plebe so you’d might as well just stay until 9 tonight and do it yourself. And you’re probably afraid of not being liked. More on that some other time.)

No, we’re talking about the run-of-the-mill, garden-variety fear of being busted as a fraud (hello, imposter syndrome!), of looking inadequate, of looking weak (gasp!)– which would become wildly evident if Mr. or Mrs. CEO broke down and said “I don’t know,” let alone “I need help.”

Isn’t it exhausting to feel the need to be right all the time, to be all knowing?

And that’s where your ego comes in, that fragile thin-skinned shell on your inside that puffs itself up on the outside, projecting a thick outer crust of false “I have all the answers” bravado. It can come across as the typical egomaniacal know-it-all CEO character we know from the movies, sure, but in most of the clients I’ve worked with who are afraid of being wrong, they’re excellent people that just have weighty insecurities revolving around the belief that The Boss has to have the answers. (You don’t have to be a braggadocios dick to have a ginormous ego.)

So now you’re in quite the pickle, aren’t you? You want very badly to Get Things Done Around Here (and probably quite quickly and probably quite correctly), so what’s a CEO to do when you don’t have the answers?

You know what? You not knowing gives space for someone else to know. How powerful could that be for your team?

If you matter of factly own that you’re in over your head on something, that you’re a fish out of water in a given conversation, or that you’re not the subject matter expert– and make it self-effacingly clear that you want the help you’re certain they are more than qualified to provide– your team can’t not be attracted to your human-ness (a.k.a. vulnerability) and want to help you, minus the judgment. (The voice of judgment that says that the boss should have all the answers is coming from inside your head, anyway.)

Giving others a chance to contribute and help you in the face of your perfectly acceptable ignorance is the tool that can start to chip away that that crusty ego layer. Maybe you should ask for help with that?

 

Jodi Wellman

Jodi is a co-founder of Happy Work Spectacular Life, loves red Skittles (maybe too much) and is contemplating where to get the Happy Spectacular logo tattooed on her body.

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