Sometimes we come across a situation, either in our personal or professional lives, that we just can’t figure out. It’s a roadblock to our progress and productivity, and we try everything we know to solve the issue. As high performers, we pride ourselves on being productive, getting things done the right way, and then moving on. Being faced with a perplexing problem that seems insurmountable is incredibly frustrating!
That problem we can’t solve becomes our main focus — at the expense of other issues that need our attention. It becomes so big that it keeps us up at night, for weeks on end. We draw it out on paper 10 times and still can’t solve it.
Focus on Who, Not How or What
If this has happened to you, you might be overlooking the most important way to be more productive.
In these situations, we tend to focus on the how and the what. How do I solve this problem? What am I missing? Whether it’s a computer glitch, a mechanical issue with a vehicle, a kitchen appliance that has stopped working or even a situation involving our kids at school, we run in circles, trying to discover how to fix the problem, what we’re missing. We attack it from every angle. We Google it. We get lost in the weeds, the details. We start over.
The thing is, if we knew how to fix it, we would have already done so. The key is simply to call on an expert for help, to focus on who — Who specializes in solving that type of problem?
Each one of us has a set of God-given skills and talents. But none of us excels at everything. This is why teams are so powerful. When you create a team, the sum is greater than the parts. Each individual brings unique skills, talents and experience — and a unique perspective — to the table. The collective expertise of the team is greater than the sum of its parts.
So, when you are faced with a problem that seems insurmountable, don’t spend hours, days or weeks trying to figure it out. Call an expert whose special talent is solving that type of problem.
One day recently, I was with a couple of friends/colleagues. We were discussing a big challenge that we had been dealing with in our business for several months. We spent all day trying to figure out a solution that we had tried to solve individually for quite some time. We were in a board room for nine hours, and I was at the whiteboard, writing things down. We were going in circles: How do we fix this? If we do this, what happens here? We were so lost in the weeds. Finally, when we saw team members starting to leave for the day, we said, “Hey, who do we know that can help us solve this problem?”
The next morning, we called someone we knew could solve the problem. After an hour-long meeting, we had more clarity on the situation than we ever had. And within a couple of days, the problem was solved. I was embarrassed about the amount of time, energy and focus we had wasted. Why did we wait so long, trying to figure it out ourselves? If we had called that expert months earlier, imagine how productive we could have been in other areas!
- Think of a problem you’ve faced in the past. How long did you try to solve it yourself before you finally asked an expert for help (if you asked at all!). How much productivity did you lose as a result of continuing to solve it on your own?
- If you tend to try solving problems on your own and are reluctant to call an expert, why do you wait so long to ask for help? What is holding you back? Exploring the answer to this question can lead you to greater productivity, and less stress, in the future.
Why Are Many Leaders Reluctant to Ask for Help?
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Yet many people — especially high-performing leaders — have a really hard time asking for help. Why is that?
One reason is that our society places high value on being self-reliant. We applaud people who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” and overcame all kinds of odds to become successful. But there’s no need to punish our own health and productivity just so we can be considered self-reliant! There’s a fine line between being autonomous and stubborn.
One psychoanalyst and executive coach says many leaders fail to ask for help because they are afraid of looking vulnerable or incompetent, or they fear losing control.
Imagine a leader who is facing a huge business challenge in two different scenarios. In the first scenario, he drags his team through weeks of strategy sessions, meetings and discussions, trying solutions that don’t work. His team members become frustrated with the lack of progress and productivity. They actually begin to question his leadership skills and resent his stubbornness.
Now imagine that the same leader, early on, says to his team, “It’s clear that this problem is beyond the scope of our individual and collective expertise. I have called on a highly respected expert in this area who has solved this type of problem for many Fortune 500 companies in the past. We’re all going to meet with her tomorrow at 10 a.m.” The expert walks the team through the problem and the solution. Do you think the team members question the leader’s competence now? No! They respect and appreciate his approach.
And in the process, he is showing them that it’s OK to ask for help. This is important as a parent, too. If you are quick to recognize when you don’t have a solution to a problem and you readily call on an expert to help, it shows your children that it’s OK for them to ask for help when they need it. That is a valuable life skill.
No one likes a know-it-all, yet many business leaders think they need to act like they know everything to be effective in leading others. It simply isn’t true.
When you reach out and ask for help, it shows that you recognize your own limitations and that you respect the talents other people bring to the table. It shows humility and authenticity. Humility is a highly desirable trait among leaders.
- Think of someone you know — maybe a supervisor — who likes everyone to believe he or she has all the answers. To what extent would you consider that person a better leader if he or she asked for help more readily?
- If you are a leader, to what extent do you ask for help readily when you don’t have the answers? Is there a situation you are facing right now that could use the help of an expert? If so, call the expert!
Doing Everything Yourself Isn’t Productive
When you launch your own business and build it up from nothing, you want everything associated with your business to reflect your high standards, values and character. That’s understandable. It’s admirable. However, as your business grows, at some point, it’s going to be impossible for you to control every detail. At some point, you have to begin delegating tasks to other people and training them to do things the way you like. When you trust others to do great work, you are empowering them to be the best version of themselves.
Leaders who are reluctant to ask for help run the risk of being tied to their businesses forever. The true measure of a successful business is how well it runs when you’re not there. If you want to take your family on a dream vacation for two weeks, how well will your business run while you’re gone? And how much will you worry about it? How often will you be ducking out of your family activities to call the office?
If you are still trying to “touch” and control, or at least influence, every decision anyone makes in your organization, that’s probably a sign that you need to start letting go. Start delegating. Spend your time doing only the tasks you can do. Be the visionary, and let your team members do the execution. This requires that you learn to ask for help!
Type A leaders are often unwilling to delegate tasks to others. This often results in failed projects, lost revenue and high employee turnover. One person’s capacity cannot exceed the capacity of many. By not delegating, you put your company in jeopardy. You have to discipline yourself to let go of your firm grip on unnecessary tasks.
Let’s say you are experiencing challenges in any type of relationship, and you’ve tried everything, but nothing has worked. Do you really think continuing to solve it yourself is the best solution? Do you consult with someone who has no experience in successful relationships? No! Find someone who has a proven track record in solving relationship issues.
- How good are you at delegating tasks to other people? If you struggle with this, please recognize that doing everything yourself isn’t good for you, your team or your business.
- In what areas do you excel? What are the tasks that only you can do? Write them down. Then write down all the other tasks, and delegate them to other team members. Explain why you are doing so. Explain that you want to supercharge everyone’s productivity, and you want to let everyone excel in his or her individual area of expertise.
It’s mind-boggling how simple this is. Yet we often get in our own way and, in the process, lose valuable productivity while also increasing our personal levels of stress and frustration.
We get lost in the weeds because we focus on what we know right now. We think we have the tools to solve the problem, but we don’t. We have to remember that somebody else has the solution. Somebody else may at least spark our interest enough to move us in the right direction.
Make your life easy. Find out who can solve your problem. And ask that person some questions. Don’t be afraid to bring someone else into the room. Don’t be afraid to help yourself. Be stronger, be better, be more efficient — and most of all, be more productive.