There are a lot of words in a leader’s toolkit. In fact, there are so many buzzwords today to keep up. We often hear sayings like, “At the end of day”, “cascade down”, “strategic direction”, “deep dive”, “drill down”, “low-hanging fruit”, “synergy”, “value added” and “think outside the box”. There is nothing categorically wrong with any of these and they serve their purpose to communicate a point, but I have learned there are three words that need to be present in every leader’s toolkit. These are three words every leader needs to learn to say that will unleash power, collaboration and serve as a catalyst for increased influence.
Those three words are:
I need help.
There is a tendency for leaders to buy into a lie that vulnerability, showing weakness, exposing gaps in experience or knowledge or asking for help is taboo or a sign of a bad leader. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vulnerability and asking for help is actually a sign of strength and expands the leader’s ability to leverage their influence for the good of those around them.
All of us lead with a limp. We all have weaknesses, blind spots, opportunities to stretch and grow and need others around us to complement what we bring to the team. We can try to hide or cover them up, but chances are those around us already know they exist whether we admit it or not.
Leadership does not equal loner. Leadership can be lonely, but being a leader does not mean you have to do everything on your own. There is a temptation to add pressure to ourselves to it all but it is just not realistic or authentic.
I was reminded of these truths through a story in the Bible of a situation where a leader learned to say, “I need help.”
It is the story of Moses, the leader of a tribe of people called the Israelites, and a battle he was fighting against the Amalekites who had initiated an attack against Moses and his people.
Moses was the CEO of his people group and responsible for leading, organizing, protecting and growing his organization. In those days, he was the leader charged with protecting his people from external threats. They were often under threat from external sources and Moses had to help his teams navigate through the obstacles and keep their vision on track.
In this specific battle, Moses gave his leadership team strategic direction on how to fight the Amalekites and the role he would play in the battle. Moses’ role was to stand on the mountain overlooking the battle and hold his staff out. As long as his hands and staff were raised, his team would win the battle. When his hands lowered, his team would start to lose.
As you can imagine, a battle like this can take hours, if not days. Moses’ arms got tired after a while, his hands started to drop and his team started to lose. At that point, Moses was at an important inflection point. Would he continue to fight against the fatigue on his own or would he humble himself and ask for help?
We often come to the same inflection point as leaders. We face situations where we need others around us to step in and help or complement us so we can achieve our success together.
Moses chose to pursue and accept help. He surrounded himself with strategic advisors who had permission to step in and help when needed. He had people around him who did not just tell him what he wanted to hear but also what he needed to hear. Moses brought his trusted advisors, Aaron and Hur, with him to the mountain where he positioned himself during the battle.
Here is how the story goes:
“When Moses’ arms got tired, Aaron and Hur got a stone and put it under him. Then he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up. Aaron was on one side, and Hur was on the other. Moses’ hands remained steady until sunset. So Joshua destroyed the Amalekite army with swords.” (Exodus 17:12–13)
In a moment of weakness, Aaron and Hur stepped in to help Moses and ultimately helped their team get the desired result they were looking to achieve.
The same is true for leaders. Leaders need to be fluent at asking for help and allowing others to bring their strengths to the different situations they face. There is a temptation to try to do it alone but all leaders get exhausted at some point and need others to step in and bring energy and strength. Learning to say, “I need help” is a key habit for all leaders who aspire to make a difference.
Help could come from others within your team or from other parts of your organization. We often need help from teams or people outside our direct team where there are dependencies on each other to get the work done. There is a tendency to stay bunkered or siloed but that approach often makes getting work done more complicated, less efficient and with lower quality. We all need help and an effective leader will be the first to make the move to ask others around them to weigh in and bring their strengths.
Moses had Aaron and Hur. Who do you have around you who can lift your arms up when needed and serve as a catalyst toward your defined success? Who do you have around you who will tell you what you need to hear vs. what you want to hear?