How to Ask for Help and Still Look Smart

When resources are inadequate, nothing will happen until the wheels of assistance roll.


A professional knows when to ask for help.

Less experienced individuals will keep burning the midnight oil, hoping that the deadlines will miraculously go away or an unrealistic breakthrough will occur. They worry about their image and often are consumed with massive regret that they ever took on the project.

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The professional doesn’t have time for such worries. The professional knows that the time for lessons learned and reassessment has not arrived. Now is the time to focus and to get things done. When resources and insight are inadequate, nothing will happen until the wheels of assistance begin to roll.

Pablo Picasso observed, “You must always work not just within but below your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two. If you can handle ten, then handle five. In that way the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery and you create a feeling of strength in reserve.”

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Picasso’s wisdom is best considered at the start of projects, but it also applies when we are bogged down and requesting assistance. I’ve noticed that business law students who get in over their heads and need an extension to complete assignments almost always ask for too little additional time. I find myself urging them to take more time in order to get the job done properly. A professional knows that when you ask for help, you shouldn’t scrimp with your request. Ask for more than you may need. After all, it won’t be enjoyable to have to return later and ask for more.

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Failing to make a timely request for sufficient help can be far worse than having to do so. (As a wise old general said, “Bad news isn’t like wine. It doesn’t improve with age.”) A prompt and thoughtful request for help is not an automatic sign of failure. It can reveal a manager who knows how to manage.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.


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