Gut Check: Are You A ‘Helpable’ Leader?

August 1, 2014 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Are You A ‘Helpable’ Leader?

This past year, I had the privilege of working with Bonnie St. John, a leadership consultant, Olympic medalist and keynote speaker who has one of the most inspiring life stories I’ve ever heard.

At the age of five, Bonnie had her right leg amputated. Its growth was stunted relative to her left leg and so it had to be removed. Clearly this would be a traumatic event for any person, especially one as young as Bonnie.

However, this setback didn’t prevent Bonnie from pursuing her greatest passion: downhill skiing.

Bonnie had been introduced to skiing early in her life and was simply not willing to let the amputation deprive her of a career on the slopes. She went on to become the first African-American ever to win Olympic medals in ski racing at the 1984 Paralympics, held in Innsbruck, Austria.

If that wasn’t enough of an accomplishment, Bonnie then graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard, and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. She then served in the White House as a Director of the National Economic Council during the Clinton administration.

Today Bonnie is a speaker, successful author and leads leadership seminars around the world. At a recent client event, where we both shared the podium, I had the opportunity to hear Bonnie speak.

There is so much inspiration in Bonnie’s powerful message. However, there was one thing she said that really resonated with me. It was when Bonnie talked about the critical importance of what she termed the “helpable” individual.

Bonnie learned about “helpable” people from a Hollywood star-maker, who explained that real superstar entertainers are not necessarily those with the most talent, or the ones that work the hardest. The key ingredient for superstardom is a willingness to be helped. Imagine that – superstardom comes down to being able to ask for and accept the help of others.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea as it relates to leaders. As Bonnie explained to me, being a helpable leader can mean being receptive to advice and coaching from others. It could mean asking for additional resources from another department. It can also mean empowering others to make decisions you normally control.

Yet many leaders struggle with this. We spend our careers trying to prove ourselves and go it alone. However if you are constantly focused on trying to prove yourself, you are likely uninterested in asking others for help.

Many leaders I work with are fiercely independent. You may feel that if you ask others for help it may be seen as a sign of weakness. To be honest, in some organizations I’ve worked in that was the prevailing culture. In fact, few leaders ask for help in those places.

Regardless of why we don’t ask for help, this can become a trap that catches many leaders, and ultimately limits their effectiveness.

Personally, this is something that I have had to work on throughout my career. It’s hard to let go of the old models of leadership, where you feel you have to go it alone.

Even though I have the same fears as other leaders, I know that when I ask for help, or accept help when it’s offered, things become easier and the outcomes are better. It may seem counterintuitive to some, but the reality is that leaders that ask for and take the help of others will be more successful than those that don’t.

This week’s Gut Check asks: Are you a helpable leader?

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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