A Little Help Please

When I was growing up, a common phrase we used when playing ball games was “a little help please.” The ball went into the street, across the road or into the neighbor’s yard and we called out “a little help please.” Funny – we didn’t hesitate to ask for help then. Certainly, we could have gotten the the ball ourselves, but it was common to ask for help with the ball. Unfortunately (for most of us), asking for help was not the norm in any other part of our lives, and it’s certainly not part of our regular practice now as adults.

In fact, asking for help has become associated with weakness. We’ve embraced a cultural story that says that if you have to ask for your help, then you’re weak—mentally, physically or emotionally. Even the small act of getting physical assistance (“give me a hand”) is not our first instinct when we’re struggling, especially for men.

Before we go further, let me be clear – it’s easy for us to attribute different cultural standards to men and to women especially when it relates to things like emotions, communications, relationships, etc. However, my experience (and my unofficial polling) tells me that men and women both struggle with asking for help. In fact, when I ask an audience how many of them are good at helping others, there’s usually a plethora of hands that shoot up. However, when I ask how many of them are good at asking for and receiving help, typically only a few people raise their hands.

Getting back to the point above, the answer is simple – we’ve come to believe that asking for help shows weakness (i.e. “I can’t do it or accomplish it alone”) or that strength is associated with doing it alone. There’s also the cultural message that says we should suck it up when things get tough or challenging, and gut our way through it (another version of doing it alone as a supposed strength).

The reality is that we all can use some help from time to time. Whether it’s to solve a problem or address an issue, to get through a difficult experience or emotional state, or to navigate a challenging time in our lives, we can all use some help – but we have to ask for it.

Many of your friends, team members and colleagues are ready, willing and able to support you, but they don’t know how to help AND they’re extremely hesitant to jump in and help unless you ask for it in some way. Yes, we can step in and help without being asked, but many of us won’t take helpful action without either a request, an invitation or some strong signal that someone is open to the help. The reasons why are many – fear of imposing, fear of the help not being wanted (or received), concern that the recipient of the help will worry that you (the helper) think they’re weak or can’t handle things on their own, etc. No matter the reason, you often have to ask for help to get.

One interesting and confusing outcome for some of you is that you choose not to ask for help, and then you resent the fact that no one helped or offered to help. It’s a total set up – you somehow expect or want people to help, but you’re not willing to ask for help (expecting or assuming that they’ll help without being asked) and then you judge them as unsupportive or worse when they don’t help. Talk about a crazy scenario.

By the way – you don’t have to know exactly what kind of help you need to ask for in order to get it. I’ve found that not knowing what you need is actually another reason or excuse to avoid asking for help. After all, if you don’t know what help you need (or in what ways people could help you), then how can you ask for it? Simple – just ask for help even if you aren’t sure what the help or support will be or could be. You’ll be amazed at the ways that people around you will step up to help and support if you only invite them to help by asking.

Make no mistake about it – the ability and willingness to ask for help is also a critical part of your leadership. Too often leaders falsely believe that they can’t show any sign of weakness and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. So leaders stumble along, attempt to gut it out or figure it out on their own and, as a result, miss opportunities, fail to solve issues or delay solutions – all to the detriment of their team and the organization.

To be clear and straight – asking for help is an act of vulnerability, which is why so many of you hesitate or fail to ask for help. You don’t want people to think you can’t do it alone or that you aren’t willing to do it alone, but what if asking for help is not a result of either of those things? What if asking for help is a realization that there’s more power and opportunity in collaboration? What if asking for help is the best way to accelerate solutions or to get back on track? What if the reality is that life and leadership is meant to be a team sport, not a solo endeavor?

I invite you to be willing to ask for help whenever you’re facing a challenge or chasing an opportunity. Ask before you even think you might need or want help. Ask without knowing what the help looks like. Ask, not because you can’t do it alone, but because you’re wise enough to want to do it together.

The myth that asking for help is a sign of weakness is a dangerous myth, and it’s becoming more dangerous every day as more people are struggling and failing on their own in many material parts of their lives. Lean into asking for help as a form of your wisdom, power and leadership. Embrace asking for help as a form of modeling that will encourage others to ask for help, and when others follow you — that means you’re leading. If you’re ready and willing to lead, then be willing to ask for help. It’s simple and only requires four words – a little help please.


  1. Dianne K Mercer says:

    Just wanted to say this is one of your best articles yet. Having the courage to ask for help is huge…
    I am so glad I reached out a month or so ago in response to one of your articles. My question to you at the time was …how to reinvent myself …. as you said the thought of that could be quite a daunting task. However you did give very good advice .I have found by taking it one minute at a time one day at a time . I have allowed life to inspire me.

    I am now putting together a teaching series and motivational series for women. The series is called warrior princess. Can’t go into great detail about it …as it is still a work in progress but I am very excited about it . I will be able to give this series to a group of ladies that Have encouraged me to keep writing and they are so excited about hearing it.

    When I reached out to you it was the first time I had ever done anything like that. I usually deal with everything on my own by myself, a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of girl. I am so glad I reached out for that bit of encouragement and you took the time to give me good feedback and good advice.
    Forever grateful
    Thank you Jeff !

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