Leaders Who Ask For Help

March 18, 2016

In my work as a leadership coach I regularly encounter senior managers and directors who desire to become leaders, but many fail to understand that the leap is much more than a title, salary and corner office.

Leadership isn’t so much appointed as it is earned through your management track record and, perhaps just as importantly, the soft skills you demonstrate.

Soft skills include the ability to communicate clearly and effectively, inspire people to deliver their best, organizational savvy, courage to make hard decisions, and the ability to admit you don’t have all the answers. This last one means demonstrating humility and often runs counter to what we expect in our leaders.

“In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, asking for help can be shaming if we’re not raised to understand how seeking help is human and foundational to connection,” writes author and researcher Brené Brown in her book Rising Strong. “But the truth is that no amount of money, influence, resources, or determination will change our physical, emotional, and spiritual dependence on others.”

None of us have all the answers and the strongest leaders are those who not only acknowledge this to themselves, but demonstrate it to others. As much as we may be seeking a single person to have all the answers and take care of everything, the reality is no one person can do this.

However, we live in a culture that presents it that way. Think about sports and how despite the need for total team effort, the media presents Payton Manning and the Denver Broncos or Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. NBA match-ups are promoted as LeBron James and the Cavaliers versus Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

Taking nothing away from the leadership these talented athletes demonstrate, we discount and denigrate the efforts of those around them who contribute to victories. We give too much credit to the individual athletes when they succeed and lay on too much blame when they fail.

In the more serious arena of politics, this lack of humility and the leader’s inability to rely upon others can be much more troubling. When a leader claims he or she has all the answers, beware because this can mean a lack of self-awareness, extreme egotism, narcissism and will likely lead to destructive and even catastrophic decisions.

When Republican presidential front-running candidate Donald Trump was recently asked by host Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he would rely on for help with foreign policy, he said:

“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain. I’ve said a lot of things … I speak to a lot of people, but my primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”

Despite no experience in domestic or foreign policy, Trump is essentially saying we should take him on faith. He says he’s smart and he can figure it out. In this bizarre political season, vetting potential leaders of the free world should demand more than this.

In the corporate setting, those leading from a cool and professional distance are unable to make sound decisions because, like all of us, they have blind spots and areas where they are simply deficient. When these leaders refuse to ask for help they risk alienating their people and make bad decisions.

The difficulty with asking for help is because it is emotionally risky and may expose our uncertainty. This is, however, the exact vulnerability necessary for us to fully connect with others. Without the courage to risk opening up and being seen, there can be no connection.

Just the other day I spoke with a leader who described the most powerful and important day in his career. It was at an off-site where they were discussing the importance of trust. When it was brought up that there was a trust problem in the organization, he invited feedback as to whether he was someone who could be trusted. The answer came back negative.

Without becoming defensive, he asked for examples of why this was the case, and in front of the entire group he listened with an open mind and open heart. He invited follow up conversations with each of the individuals who spoke up in order to learn from them and to express his perspective. Later he came to find not only did these individual relationships improve, but so did trust, his satisfaction at work and his overall growth as a leader, culminating with a promotion.

The ability to courageously expose our vulnerability and ask for help is the very thing that builds our leadership capacity. Demonstrating humility that runs counter to the image we’re trying to live up to facilitates an important connection to those we want as followers.

Expecting leaders to be anything other than emotionally vulnerable and imperfect human beings is detrimental to our institutions and our very livelihood. Instead, let leaders risk exposing their ignorance in order to raise their competence and connection with those we want them to lead.

Leadership & Donald Trump

August 21, 2015

Donald Trump has garnered a significant lead in the early stages of the Republican presidential primary based—at least in part—on his bravado, brand recognition, and Washington-outsider perspective. Trump is also very good at saying provocative or ridiculous things that keep the discussion from more substantive issues.

It is very early in a long campaign and the polls surely reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the status quo. Trump does not speak for rank and file Republicans any more than Bernie Sanders speaks for the majority of Democrats.

However, Trump is building a serious following because he has many outstanding leadership qualities, including confidence, unrelenting tenacity, and fierce negotiating skills. These serve him well in business, but these alone are unlikely to translate into success in winning this campaign or in governing if he were to be elected to the Oval Office.

Let’s take a deeper look at the positive leadership he possesses.

  • Confidence – When it comes to leading, there may be no more important trait than confidence because without it one cannot make tough decisions. Self-confidence provides the foundation others need to see in order to follow. Trump may border on over-confidence at times and he may need to balance this with at least a little humility.
  • Tenacity – Those with tenacity are able to get things done because they don’t give up, and it enables them to stay in the fight when most others seek a way out. Tenacious leaders make good leaders because they are driven to win. No one separates winners from losers more quickly and vocally than Trump, but he should temper this with compassion in order to succeed in politics.
  • Negotiating Skills – No matter the leader, one needs to negotiate deals of some kind. Leaders with superior negotiating skills find ways to get deals done even when there is a standstill. In governing, however, you can’t simply throw more money at problems and exert sheer force of will get bills passed.

Trump has a history of demonstrating these three leadership skills that greatly contributed to his very successful business ventures.

On the other hand, Trump may lack leadership traits that are ultimately vital in effective leaders, especially those in politics. These include integrity, humility, and the ability to inspire and motivate people. Let’s look at each of these more closely.

  • Integrity – Though this term has become the “awesome” in overuse these days, we do want our leaders to have integrity. It’s hard to do the right thing when no one is watching even though, in this day and age, someone is always watching. Trump is constantly backpedaling with regard to the offensive remarks he makes towards a decorated veteran, Mexicans, women and fellow Republican candidates. One has to question whether he really has a soundness of moral character and honesty to lead effectively.
  • Humility – Being humble is never fully appreciated, but of utmost importance to lead effectively. Humility may appear to conflict with confidence, but it is really a counterbalance that prevents over-confidence. All too often, Trump speaks as if he has all the answers and doesn’t need others to help him solve complex problems. His egotistical nature may work in the commercial real estate business, but that won’t translate into governing domestically or effectively managing foreign policy.
  • Inspire and Motivate – The man who tried to trademark “You’re Fired!” is hardly the type to encourage and support others. Instead, Trump rules with an iron fist meant to scare others into performing. While this management technique may work in certain cases for short periods of time, it is not sustainable. And he cannot threaten American voters into voting for him at the risk of being fired. Trump is divisive in a way that provides nightly infotainment, but will not result in competently leading a nation.

In this country, billionaires can pretty much say and do just about anything they want. They can also buy whatever they want, including political influence. (Remember when democracy didn’t include the Koch brothers, George Soros and Citizens United?) But should a candidate be able to single-handedly purchase the highest office in the land?

There is no question Trump has been successful in business, however, that doesn’t necessarily translate into political success. Trump amassed a huge fortune from his various businesses and he has demonstrated many leadership qualities in this effort. But business success doesn’t necessarily translate into political success.

A Washington Post editorial about Donald Trump recently stated: “Anyone—we’re tempted to say any moron—can grab a torch and run in front of the mob. What takes talent is what you might call political anger management: to identify legitimate complaints and turn them into a constructive direction, on behalf of a governing prescription.”

Right now the leading candidates from both parties are polarizing figures: Trump and Hillary Clinton. What is unclear is whether either can be elected.

Leadership in politics, like leadership in business, requires a balanced approach and Donald Trump needs to shore up many areas of his skill set before he will be elected to high office and he can govern effectively.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/5440388253″>Donald Trump</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>