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Asking for help
Are you ready for your holidays?
We are – more so this year than in many a year – it feels as though we have all been ‘holding’ a lot through this pandemic. And now is the time to rest and recharge, to step away from the busy-ness and look after ourselves and our loved ones.
Do you need some help with that or can you turn off easily?
Help is the theme of this month’s newsletter – asking for it, offering it and getting curious about how asking for help brings life to teams.
Welcome to the campfire, pull up a chair, throw another log on the fire and let’s see how the conversation flows – it’s good to see you here, thanks for dropping by.
Tony, Andy and Pip
The “Living Teams” Team
Asking for help – 2 stories
Andy and I have a lot of shared experiences in terms of our coach and leadership training. For example, we both attended a year-long Leadership programme in California led by The Coaches Training Institute.
The retreat centre was called “The Mother Tree” – that’s her in the photo above – it was an incredible location.
One of the many outdoor experiences we both encountered was one that taught us a lifelong lesson about the leadership skill of asking for help. I’ll tell you my story first and then Andy
It was September 2004, a beautiful afternoon on a leadership retreat in Sonoma, Marin County just north of San Francisco.
We were led blindfold through the meadows towards the forest. Twenty-four of us in single file holding hands front to back like a herd of human elephants.
As we entered the forest the air got cooler and we got more nervous; we had no idea what awaited us.
The blind folds stayed on as the task and instructions for the leadership exercise were read out and we were also told we could not talk unless we needed help in which case, just say help and someone will come to you.
And that was it – we were on our own.
I’m not a big fan of these kinds of ‘tests’ because I don’t see myself as a great problem solver, I give up quite quickly – solving puzzles solo feels very exposing – it felt like I was back in a maths class at primary school.
I stumbled silently into my tribe mates as they stumbled into me – what a shambles!
Sod this for a game of soldiers I said to myself, there’s no way I’m going to find the way out.
“Help” I said out loud.
After a few moments a voice whispered in my ear “You have found the exit – what do you want to do, stay in or leave?”
Yes, that’s right, asking for help was the solution to the problem – eureka!
But now they faced with another dilemma.
They gave me the choice…to leave the ‘game’ or stay in.
I wasn’t going to desert my friends.
I whispered to the whisperer “I’ll stay”
I decided that the best way to communicate to the others that the solution to their problems would be found by saying “help” out loud was to do just that – but really LOUD so they would definitely hear me and take the hint.
I shouted “HELP”
I shouted “HELP” again – and again.
Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Each time I shouted help, someone came up to me and asked if I wanted to stay or leave.
I stayed and I stayed.
Finally – I chose to leave.
My ‘helper’ took my blindfold off and led me to a vantage point overlooking the tribe as we watched them stumble around in the dark struggling to find the answer.
It was an odd experience to witness them in their struggles.
Especially when the solution was so easy – just ask for help.
What was stopping them from asking for help?
As time went on I was joined by others and we looked on with a mixture of mirth and sadness.
It was kind of funny, but it was also incredibly poignant because they looked so desperate to solve the problem by themselves and not to ask for help.
Wow – what an experience.
Who knew asking for help could be that hard?
Who knew how hard we try to solve problems all by ourselves when all we have to do is ask for help.
When was the last time you asked for help?
A very different experience to my story of asking for help. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to asking for help – just your own unique experience.
Thank goodness, we’re all different. Find out just how different Andy’s story is…
There was a time – 20 years ago – where I was participating in a leadership development course. Co-Active Leadership. Rocket fuel for personal growth. Holy Moly this course had (and still has) a kick to it.
One of the first exercises – the lessons of which still reverberate through my life 20 years later – was all about asking for help.
I failed it. Big Time. As a stubborn young man, there was no way I was going to be asking for help. Little did I know that the act of asking for help was the way out!
Asking for help was leadership lesson #1. Asking for help is an act of leadership.
My intellect understands this as an idea, but oh my goodness – my heart and stomach still struggle when it comes to the living moments of vulnerability.
Leaders ask for help. Asking for help is an act of leadership. Allowing myself to accept the help of others – here for me is the real learning and growth edge. To fully allow myself to do this means that I must first accept that I cannot do X, Y or Z alone.
And to learn to accept this without creating the thought “If you have to ask for help, it means you are not strong enough….”
This is at the heart of personal growth. Learning to ask for help. Learning to accept and welcome the help of others and simultaneously own my authentic authority and power continue to be experiences that guide my personal growth and leadership even today.
The lesson began 20 years ago – and let’s leap forward 20 years. By mid 2020 I had successfully built and raised a family with my wife. I had built a reasonably successful one-man business. However, I was coaching teams and not really in a team myself. This was incongruent and it could not continue.
I knew I had come to the limit of my individual capacity and availability. To grow impact – I needed to grow a team. The path would not unfold unless I left the known world of the solo-preneur. I knew inside I would have to ask for help.
Lesson #1 of leadership was knocking on the door of my soul again.
Will I do it alone, or build a real team? Am I willing to let go of control and my need to feel safe because the ball is in my hands? What will I do?
Confronted again by the realization that I need to ask for help – Will I or wont I step again to the edge…?
And I have grown a little bit in the mast 20 years. I paid attention. I overcame again my fears of not being strong enough and I accepted both that I wanted to build a world-class business and that I didn’t know how… I needed help.
So I asked some people I love to help me…
And because of that, Living Teams was born. We are successfully creating impact and pathways for leadership and personal growth in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that none of us have known before. We are a team, and a business I would never have been able to build without asking for and accepting the help of others.
Finally, now after 20 years I have learnt that asking for help and truly “being open” to allow the help in is the way the magic happens.
The moral of the story is that deep lessons in life and leadership guide you constantly throughout life. Being able to ask for and receive help is a theme of leadership and personal growth with depths unknown.
The risks and opportunities of the future are enormous. As we all learn to lead from the future as it emerges, we will be invited to bring deeper leadership than ever before. In this moment, what is the help you need? Are you brave enough to ask for it?
My Hero’s Journey
This month, Nick Martin, one of our intrepid Living Teams coaches steps into the role of storyteller. Here’s how Nick’s story begins…”I have been fired from five jobs – and those five are just the ones I can remember!”
The first one, when I was fresh out of university and knew nothing about the world, was with a company that hired me to be a sales trainee. (Sales? Me? What were they thinking?!) They hired me, so they said, for my spark. Over the next eighteen months they extinguished that spark, and then fired me.
The next three were all accountancy jobs. The first of these was with Ernst & Whinney (yes, it was so long ago that they had not become Ernst & Young yet.) I joined as a graduate trainee, and the night before I started, I did not sleep a wink, because I could sense that I was about to make a terrible mistake.
For ten years and three jobs I knew that I was in the wrong place, but I did not know what else to do. Each time that I was fired and moved to a new job in the same profession I told myself that it would get better, but inevitably it got worse, at least partly because I took myself with me. A silver lining in this cloud was that the last two of these jobs were in France – I loved living there, even if work was a nightmare.
When I left my last accountancy job it was painful, embarrassing, shameful – and a huge relief. I was pushed rather than jumping, but it was exactly the push that I needed. The Hero’s Journey starts with the call to adventure – and usually it starts with the hero refusing the call. This was true for me. In 1990, while travelling the world for a few months in between jobs, I came across a fantastic outdoor centre on Vancouver Island, where they run a four-month outdoor leadership training programme. I was very tempted to stay there and join the next group – but the sensible part of me said that I had already paid for the plane tickets for the rest of my trip, and that I had a job to go to. So I refused this call to adventure – until a couple of years later this final accountancy-related firing told me that it was time to accept the call. My evil (probably only in my perception) boss even turned from adversary into unwitting ally. In France you cannot fire people without going through various steps and legal processes. In order to circumvent all that he paid me off – and the amount that he paid me was exactly what I needed to pay for the programme, my equipment, and the airfare to Vancouver. What followed was four months of big outdoor adventures – rock climbing, mountaineering, whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking, and canoeing. It was a wonderful experience, even if I knew that I was running away from lots of things, without knowing what I was moving towards. It was the step into the unknown that I was now ready for.
It was also the first step towards the work that I do, and the life that I have, now. The second step, which would not have been possible without the first (which is the nature of second steps), was to work for the Outward Bound Trust in Scotland and the Lake District, running outdoor-based team-building and leadership courses.
If I have been fired from a few jobs, I have also been tapped on the shoulder by a few allies on the journey who have said to me “Come over here”. The first two, I did not even know about until afterwards. The headmistress at my primary school told my parents at the first parents’ evening that I was an academic. Quietly, in the background, without me knowing anything about it, she nurtured my talents. Then, in my first year at secondary school, my French teacher immediately noticed my affinity for languages, and made it his mission to get me to Oxford University. He succeeded, and having accomplished his mission, left teaching. He then moved into the accountancy profession, and five or six years later encouraged me to follow him. As a result my debt of gratitude was a very complex one for many years. Now I do not see it as a debt, and more as an example of the idea that everything that we have done up until this point has prepared us for what is going to happen next.
Twenty-one years ago Andy Denne, the founder of Living Teams tapped me on the shoulder. When I met him by chance (and we know that is not true), he was training to be a coach, and encouraged me to follow him. Back then this was the first I had heard of coaching, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else. I followed him, and he has been one of my most consistent allies ever since.
I have had some wonderful teachers, especially over the past twenty years, and one of the things that they have had in common is that they have all inspired me to go and learn more.
It is important to remember that all the other people in the story of our own hero’s journey may be only minor characters in our story, but they are the heroes in their stories (where we are the minor characters for them). The man who fired me from my first job subsequently went into politics, where his career has included being fired as a secretary of state from the UK government. Twice. The man who fired me from my last accountancy job died of a heart attack at the age of 54. Who knows what contribution I may have made to his stress.
No story is true in and of itself. As I re-read what I have written here, I realise that I have focused on the struggles of the first third of my life, rather than on the fulfilment of the second third. And obviously there was also fulfilment in the first third, and there have been struggles in the second third. There are many other possible versions of this story that I could tell, with different tests, different allies, and different dragon’s caves. And what will the third third bring of this adventure bring? That is another step into the unknown…
Living Teams Rock Moments – “Help” by The Beatles
There’s nothing wrong with low hanging fruit, often it’s the juiciest!
So I make no apology for choosing “Help” by the Beatles as this month’s rock anthem.
Maybe a lot of us are not so ‘self assured’ these days and could do with some help.
Thanks John, Paul, Ringo and George for the reminder.
A prize for anyone who can read semaphore and decipher the message on the album cover . Here’s a clue, it doesn’t spell HELP.
Thanks for joining us around the campfire, we hope that this edition on asking for help has been helpful for you.
It’s not easy asking for help so we challenge you to ask someone on your team “where could you do with some help right now?” and if they say “no, I’m fine, really” (which is a natural response to that question) ask again and wait for their answer.
We’re off on our holidays for August so we’ll see you again in September.
Take good care of yourselves and your team mates.
Tony, Andy and Pip
The Living Teams Team