Some of you may recognise the title of this article as an old song by The Four Tops. I have to admit that it is one of my all-time favourites and always has the effect of stopping me in my tracks to listen, really listen to the words. It’s also amazing how old song lyrics can get you thinking. The song is all about support systems and asking for help when you need it. Hearing the song again the other day, that thought collided with some statistics I heard a little while ago so bear with me while I connect those thoughts here.
Because it is not possible for any of us to know absolutely everything about everything, people have always developed methods by which we can rely on other people to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. Current methods of doing that simply reflect the times we live in: sharing information virtually; team dynamics working best when everyone contributes what they are best at; networking widely, both virtually and in person, and sharing our expertise with others. We all look for and depend on the very different support systems we find and build so carefully around us.
Yet for some people, asking for help remains a most difficult thing to do. Do we believe that others will think less of us because we don’t know the answer? Are we afraid that people will be disappointed in us? Or are we just too embarrassed to admit to the gaps in our knowledge. None of these reasons should really stop us because those around us are always happy to help, to give assistance when asked. Indeed, most people would find it positively flattering to be approached by someone looking for their help and needing to tap into their particular expertise. We just have to admit to ourselves that we need to ask for that help.
Those statistics I mentioned arose when I shared a speaking platform with the Deputy Director of the Enterprise Directorate at the Department for Business and Skills (BIS). The subject of her session was business growth and she offered a worrying statistic, based on their latest research, that around 60% of SMEs had not actively sought any external advice and assistance in the past three years. Of the 40% that had, seeking that advice had more often been triggered by problems they had encountered rather than looking for strategic advice upfront. They also discovered that the propensity to seek and use advice increased with the size of the business and was more common in younger businesses and those led by women. They now need to establish whether there is a correlation between the success and growth of those organisations and taking that advice earlier rather than later. They perhaps also need to answer whether businesses that do well would do so anyway – advice or not!
There are good reasons why we don’t seek assistance or advice from those who can help – trust, confidence, possibly even financial imperatives. However, it is worth bearing in mind that there is always the possibility of benefitting from changing the way we currently do things, to find new avenues, to look for those who can make our lives a little easier, take the stress and worry out of our decision-making and help us to make tomorrow look a little more like we want it to be. Seeking that help can be a one-off, sequential or regular activity, depending on need and is the reason why mentoring can be an extremely effective process for people in all types of employment, business or personal situations. This is a supportive, relationship-driven process which can offer simply astonishing benefits in a very short space of time.
Have you ever noticed that life tends to teach us what we need to learn? Well, there is an old legend which tells us that Santa will give each of us what we need from his magic red sack not what we want. It may be a little early to start thinking about the tail end of the year but time will pass surprisingly quickly so don’t forget to ask for what you need early in the year. That way you are also bound to get what you want later on!
QUOTES for sidebar
Value what you have but seek for more. Isocrates, 4th Century BC
The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.
John Foster Dulles (United States Secretary of State, 1953-1959)
Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him. Aldous Huxley”