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Do You Know This Dirty, Shameful Habit of Highly Successful Women Leaders?

Eleanor Beaton

Women love to make fun of dudes for failing to ask for directions when they are lost….

…or refusing to read the instructions when assembling a tricky piece of Ikea furniture.

In fact, making fun of men for their seeming inability to ask for assistance is pretty much a cultural norm.

How absurd! we titter. If they could just get over themselves and ask for help, life would be so much easier and we wouldn’t have to watch this embarrassing caveman act for a minute longer.

But the truth is that when our backs are against the wall and we’re struggling, we sisters tend to roll up our sleeves, dig in, and suffer alone.

Indeed, for most women, HELP is a dirty, filthy word.

Examples abound. Let’s start with the home front. I have friends who will literally not let their husbands load the dishwasher because “they don’t do it right.”

Other women will spurn their partners’ offers to bathe and bed the kiddies because — wait for it — “they don’t do it right.”

At work, it’s not much better.

I recently spent an hour with an executive coach who cut her teeth helping to launch Oprah from a local TV talk-show host in Chicago into a household name. She pointed out that women leaders sometimes sabotage their careers by spending too much time working in the trenches (again with sleeves rolled up), rather than focusing on the big picture by doing what men would do in similar positions — asking for help by delegating responsibilities.

A few months ago I spent the better part of a lunch hour convincing a bright, incredibly talented entrepreneur friend that a mutual colleague would not laugh at her and think she’s dumb if she approached this person to ask for help in managing the business.

If any of these situations sound remotely familiar for you or women leaders you know, I’d like to announce some incoming tough love:

The quickest and surest path to ignominious mediocrity, crappy work-life balance and shoddy health is to try and do everything alone.

What I love most about my work is that I routinely get to pick the brains of heavy-hitting women leaders, and I can tell you that they are generally humble people who have learned to ask for help before they think they need it.

Yep. The dirty, shameful habit of highly successful women leaders is this:


And if there’s a tiny voice in your head saying “Yeah, must be nice if you can afford it,” guess again. These ladies found the mentors, traded for the babysitters, asked for advice while they were on the ride to Successville, not after they got there.

Maybe you’re trying to “do it all” because you were raised on the career-killing belief that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Or perhaps you’re worried that people will think less of you if you admit you don’t have all the answers.

You might be telling yourself that you’re not rich enough, sophisticated enough, successful enough or worthy enough to get help.

Or maybe you are so overwhelmed you can’t even take the time to figure out how someone could possibly help you.

Is this you? If so, here are seven things you need to know about asking for help.

1. As a woman — especially a woman who has children — you will simply have less time to focus on your career or business. With time off for babies, doctors appointments, Christmas concerts, and head lice outbreaks, you could be looking at as much as 25% less time than your male counterparts.

Because of this, you’ve got to make every minute count. (Seriously, I mean every minute. Canada’s top female entrepreneur plans her day in intervals as small as 2 minutes).

If you’re an entrepreneur, don’t waste your time dickering with receipts. Hire a bookkeeper. If you’re a manager, don’t micro-manage your team or spend hours re-doing their work because it’s not quite up to the uber-high standards you set for yourself. Set the direction, communicate it to your team and then get the heck out of their way.

2. Don’t let your ego fool you into thinking that asking for help is a strategy for losers and weaklings.

Everyone has moments when they worry they will be exposed as a fraudulent loser. I mean everyone.  I was at a conference recently where Kirstine Stewart, formerly the boss of the CBC, and now the top dog at Twitter Canada, admitted to having encountered her share of fraudulent feelings. It happens, it’s life. Accept you will battle feelings of embarrassment and inadequacy when asking for help. Then do it anyway.

3. Let other people help you figure out where you need help.

If you’re struggling in your career or business, chances are you know something isn’t quite right, but you’re not totally sure what the problem actually is. Don’t let this be a reason to avoid asking for help. There’s nothing like a set of fresh eyes to spot the problem areas.

4. Practice saying yes to every offer of help.

Julie Cole, co-founder of Mabel’s Labels, is one of my favourite entrepreneurs. She founded her business around the time her first child was born and went on to have five more. When she’s hosting a dinner party at her place and someone offers to bring a dish, SHE SAYS YES.  Successful women leaders welcome random offers of assistance — even when it comes in the form of tuna casserole.

5. Focus on results, not effort.

I know I’m running the risk of hate mail on this one, but, newsflash: we women tend to be pleasers. As such, we believe that if we go the extra mile and work extra hard, people will magically notice and reward our efforts.

Sorry. That’s just not true.

Efforts alone aren’t rewarded. Efforts that generate results are the ones that get attention. Strategic women leaders understand this key concept of getting shit done: you don’t do everything you can to reach your goal, you do as little as possible to reach your goal. I’m talking about minimum effort, maximum impact. Figure out the few things you could focus on to get the results you want, and delegate the crap out of everything else.

6. Be prepared to be blown away.

A few years ago I decided I needed some help. I’d built a successful multi-six figure consulting practice, but I had lost the passion for my business, and I was feeling overwhelmed, creatively exhausted and tapped out. I called a business advisor I knew and asked her if she would have coffee with me and hear me out.

That conversation opened the door to a number of incredible opportunities that transformed not only my business, but how I felt about the work I did. In fact, I can trace my new business mentor, a 60-something serial entrepreneur who built up her last business to more than $200 million in annual revenues, directly to that one coffee meeting.

Conversations create. Ask for help and be prepared to be blown away by what you’ll get in return.

7. Pass it along.

At the 2013 W100 Idea Exchange, an event honouring Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs, Kirstine Stewart urged the room full of women leaders to “spend our social capital.” Sometimes the demands of family and work life prevent women from networking, mentoring and helping up and comers. Don’t make this mistake. Pay it forward. Help your sisters. Karma is a powerful thing to cultivate.

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