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How and When to Ask for Help

How and When to Ask for HelpWe have a tendency to lionize entrepreneurs as larger-than-life characters with exceptional talent, nerves of steel and perfect instincts whose success is all their own making. While founders do possess an innovative spirit and the courage to get behind their ideas, they have limits like everyone else and sometimes need a helping hand.

Help-Seeker’s Dilemma

Especially for entrepreneurs, who tend to prize independence, seeking support can feel threatening. It can be even more so for women who may already see their expertise questioned or feel highly scrutinized.

This tricky push-pull was dubbed the Help-Seeker’s Dilemma by psychologist and researcher Arie Nadler, Ph.D., of Tel Aviv University, as he identified the trade-offs people often experience between the benefits and potential costs of seeking help. Sometimes, those costs are literal, as when you hire an accountant to complete your taxes. Other times, they are more intellectual or social, such as exposing vulnerability or feeling indebted to someone.

People tend to put off asking for help in workplace settings until they are in way over their heads, stuck and desperate, according to University of Michigan professor and author of All You Have to Do is Ask, Wayne Baker, Ph.D. That’s a shame, because his research also shows that asking for help can increase problem solving, make us more creative and more efficient and reduce stress and burnout.

The Entrepreneur’s Predicament

The stakes can feel even higher for founders. In the early days of launching a business, founders tend to operate on tight budgets and often rely on themselves for everything from strategic vision to marketing, logistics and frontline support. While demonstrating competence and a can-do attitude will help drive customer, investor and even personal confidence, there are times a woman needs a helping hand.

But will she ask for it? Research focused on entrepreneurs finds they are especially reluctant to seek help and typically avoid it until a problem becomes severe or persistent. With your self-esteem and identity closely tied to your business, you may fear being seen as incompetent or dependent on others, rather than the take-charge expert at the helm.

This tendency is magnified for entrepreneurs who feel especially concerned about self-presentation — a likely situation for many women founders and perhaps even more so for women of color who often operate under a magnifying glass.

Research does show that entrepreneurs are more willing to seek help if the request can remain private, or when the problem is perceived to be a common one, thus reducing stigma around it.

The Upside of Help

A little help from your friends (fellow founders, suppliers, employees and mentors) can increase your potential for growth and success, so it’s worth considering the benefits of a helping hand well before you feel overwhelmed or headed for failure.

  • Shorten your learning curve. Figuring things out on your own takes time and mental energy you probably can’t spare. When you can go to school on someone else’s learnings, you can increase your efficiency and productivity.
  • Customize to your needs. Formal learning programs offer tremendous benefits, but sometimes cover much broader topic areas than you need in the moment. By asking for specific help in a particular area, you can focus your learning for greatest impact.
  • Build new relationships. Most people enjoy being helpful, as long as you don’t overdo it. When you reach out to someone on the periphery of your circle, it opens an opportunity to create a closer bond and a mutually beneficial relationship moving forward. Your supplier network is a great place to start; it’s in your mutual self-interest that you succeed.
  • Reduce stress and expand energy. With someone in your corner to guide you through tricky waters, you can just feel the physical release and renewed energy to tackle the challenge. While spinning your wheels saps energy and builds frustration, well-timed help can halt a downward spiral.
  • Gain new perspectives. When you ask for help, you take what you get which can be a good thing. Maybe your source doesn’t do things exactly the way you would, but getting a new perspective on your challenge can be a major reward in itself.

As a woman entrepreneur, you are already a determined leader, but you are also likely juggling multiple roles at work and home, face higher risks than a more established business and may work with significant resource constraints. Learning how to ask for help is a skill you can add to your toolkit and tap into a powerful strategic resource at your fingertips. Help and support are mainstays in the community of founders you can connect with every day at MonicaMotivates.