How to ask for and offer help during uncertainty


During this critical time in history we talk about leadership and crisis management more than ever. We see a lot of behavioral models* being tested, we question organizational structures in our companies, and we find a new article every day describing techniques on leading through uncertainty. This might seem like a C-level discussion that does not call for an action from anyone with a non-leadership role. So what can the rest of us do while leaders are managing the crisis? Do we just wait?

I am certain that at this exact moment each and every one of us is both experiencing the need to be helped and has the capacity to offer help to someone else. How do you figure that out?

Why ask for help

Many of us do not ask for help fearing to appear weak in the eyes of our peers and colleagues. We play hard, act tough, work non-stop, turning into iron ladies and terminators lacking emotions and empathy. It took me a while to come back from an iron lady character accepting that showing weakness is a natural part of being a human. To express the importance of saying “I need your help with something” out loud, I like to apply a metaphor comparing oneself with a horse and a camel in the desert. If you take a horse to the desert, it will keep walking until it stops and dies instantly from exhaustion. If you take a camel to the desert, it will stop when it needs to rest. So why be a horse when you can be a camel? Accept that showing some weakness is natural, formulate what is it you need help with, reach out to your team and your manager, and express clearly what is it you are struggling with. Remember, relying on other people is not a sign of weakness – it is something that we do. And letting others help you is just one way to help yourself.

Why offer help where you can

In a difficult situation it is not easy to help others, but chances are you can do so little that will make a difference for someone else. A few days ago one project director admitted to me that her team thanked her for leading them during this difficult time. Such a minor thing, but this confirmation gave her energy to keep going. We are used to hearing from our leaders that we have performed well. But when was the last time you thanked your manager for doing a good job? If you do not feel comfortable doing so, keep it on a team level instead. Every person on your team must have different strengths, so do you. Think about a simple task or skill that feels natural and easy to you. I personally am extremely organized and have an ability to create structure in chaos, but someone else not so much. Offer to share your folder organization system or going-through-emails technique. What might seem obvious to you can be an eye-opening experience to someone else on your team.

Finally, offering and asking for help is a matter of identifying your own strengths and weaknesses, and balancing those. You might think, alone I can do so little, but together we can do so much. Every tiny effort helps the entire organism survive, meaning you are contributing to survival of your team, department and entire organization.

*Behavioral models show what happens or what is supposed to happen when a system responds to a stimulus from its environment.

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