So, stop me if you’ve ever believed one of these toxic leadership myths:
Yeah, that’s all a load of bull.
If you're ever scared to ask for help, this episode's for you.
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So, stop me if you’ve ever believed one of these toxic leadership myths.
Good Leaders have all the answers.
Good Leaders can look at any situation and immediately know what to do.
Good Leaders have a clear vision at all times.
Good Leaders know what to say in any conversation.
And that’s why Good Leaders never, ever ask for help.
Yeah, that’s a load of bull. The best leaders I have ever known ask for help early and often. And in fact, I find my success as a leader is inversely proportional to the degree I believe I have all the answers. So in today’s episode, I’m going to teach you how to identify when you need to slow down and ask for help, who the best people are to go to for advice, and what those conversations should look like in order to have the best chance for success.
Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge, the podcast that empowers educational and library leaders to heal their organizations! I’m Dr. Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild, where I use my PhD in Higher ed leadership and nearly 2 decades of experience in academic libraries to coach leaders like you who want to build a better world without burning out.
Kind Leaders aren’t perfect, and we don’t need to be. We strive to make tough decisions without becoming jerks. We design systems that enable our teams to make a big impact without overworking. And we know that once we stop controlling and start collaborating, even the most ambitious vision can become effortless. Kind Leadership is pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. So if you’re up for a challenge, stick around for the next 10 minutes as I teach you how your school or library can create a resilient, thriving legacy that will strengthen your community long after you’re gone.
As I discussed last week in episode 49, One of the hardest things about being a leader is that people often and understandably get scared to tell us if they think we’re going astray. Although it is our obligation to make it as safe as possible for our team to come to us with their concerns, we can’t control when or even if they choose to do so. That’s why we as leaders must take responsibility for monitoring our own thoughts and emotions, to increase the odds of identifying our possible mistakes and blind spots before they go too far.
For me, often an excess of enthusiasm or confidence is a warning sign that I need to slow down and ask for some help. Most of us got into this leadership thing at least in part because we have a vision of a better world that we would like to see become reality through our work. While it’s good to stay attached to that vision up to a certain point, the danger comes when you think you know best how to attain that vision, and don’t need any input. So if you’re feeling extremely confident and gung ho about your next step, take a breath, humor me, and check in with a trusted colleague just to make extra sure you’re not missing something important. If nothing else, by taking counsel from that person, you’ll strengthen your working relationship.
On the other side of the confidence spectrum, it’s possible that every once in a while you may feel stuck about handling a situation, but are scared to ask for help because you are afraid of admitting you don’t know all the answers. This is a topic for another episode, but for now, just know this one simple truth, not knowing what to do doesn’t make you a bad leader. It makes you a human leader. Ask for Help.
So, if you’ve determined you need to ask for help, the next question becomes, who do you ask for help? Ideally, it should be someone who is close to the situation, but not too close. A lot of times when I ask for help, it’s someone in my organization or a similar organization who has probably dealt with a similar situation in the past, and who can speak from lived experience. If it’s someone I want to build a closer working relationship with, so much the better. After all, the best working friendships are often forged by tackling a shared problem, and there’s nothing much more flattering to a colleague than asking them for advice. That said, always take care to make sure you are talking to someone who has the needed judgment and discretion, especially if you’re discussing a sensitive challenge. And on that note, if you don’t have anyone you feel confident about going to in your own life, schedule a free 30 minute conversation with me by going to kindleadershipchallenge.com/coaching. I’ll listen without shaming or judgement, help you define your problem, and we’ll identify the first step or two that you can take toward a solution.
Finally, what should those conversations look like? Well, let’s start with what they shouldn’t look like. I have been on both the giving and receiving end of too many conversations that are really just vent sessions, where one is simply sharing one’s stories and interpretations of a situation, rather than truly asking for help. In short, as I discuss in episode 30, the person who says they’re asking for help is really asking for comfort, not solutions.
And to be clear, there is nothing in and of itself wrong with seeking comfort! When I walk a coaching client through making a tricky decision, the first thing I do is tell them to process their emotions, and give them tools to do so on their own, or with a therapist. However, in most circumstances that should be the preliminary work. by the time you go to an advisor to ask for help with a leadership problem, you need to be at least primarily focused on getting solutions for the conversation to be truly valuable. You should also have defined your problem and a possible solution or two. The free Mastering Challenging conversations checklist has a section that walks you through defining your leadership problem, and there are lots of other tools out there. However you go about it, the clearer you are on the nature of your problem, you will feel that much more confident when asking for help, and your colleague will be that much more equipped to provide that help.
So at this point you’re probably already guessed your challenge for this week. Ask for help. It can be something big or small. In fact, if you still feel uncomfortable asking for help, start out with something small and low-stakes. Think of it like starting a strength training program. You want to take some time using light weights with good form to build your basic skills before you tackle the heavy stuff. And the same is true with leadership as well. That’s why I keep these challenges so bite-sized and manageable, because I want you to get your reps in now, so you’re prepared to meet the hard times when they come.
Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. If you found this week’s episode insightful, share it with your fellow leaders by sending them to kindleadershipchallenge.com/50 ! Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.
Discover what Kind Leadership is (and isn't) in this four part series!
In the next 45 minutes you'll learn the first steps to healing your organization--and yourself--so you can start building the better world that you desire and your community deserves.