You Can’t Do It All: The Importance Delegation and Asking for Help in the Workplace

When was the last time you asked somebody for help?

Studies have shown that Asian professionals are less likely to ask for help in the workplace than their Caucasian colleagues. This confirms much of what I’ve hear in personal conversations with Asian professional clients. Indeed, they’ve often expressed that they are usually very hesitant to ask for help in the office or delegate tasks. Why is this?

The reasons, of course, vary. Some don’t want to feel like they are bothering their coworkers. Others fear that they might be perceived as bossy. And yet others fear that they will be perceived as someone who can’t handle their workload. Or maybe they just had a bad experience in the past when asking someone for help or delegating. Finally, let’s just say it, sometimes it’s easier to do it yourself!

I’ve had many clients ask me about how to address this particular issue. In performance evaluations, it can be frustrating when they receive feedback like “needs to speak up and ask for help" or "needs to delegate more.” This kind of feedback can really hold you back in your career. There can be big consequences of not asking for help. You may not be able to deliver on a project, or even if you do, you might get overwhelmed or burned out in the process.

If you want to move up into more senior roles, you must learn how to delegate and leverage the help of others. That is a major part of becoming a leader. As a leader with growing responsibilities, its your job to use your team to help you achieve the goals of your organization. In this kind of situation, it is simply impossible to keep “doing everything yourself”.

So, what can you do? Here are three guidelines that will help you break through your old habits and learn to delegating and ask for help effectively:

1)   Plan Ahead

If you find that asking for help never really works for you, you’re probably waiting too long to ask for it.

Asking for help or delegating shouldn’t be something you turn to when you’re swamped or at risk of falling behind. It’s not a “in case of emergency, break glass” strategy. When you are no longer in control of a situation, it isn’t “help” you need, it’s a rescue. This will likely mean reprioritizing, letting go of projects, or having someone else step in to take over, all outcomes we want to avoid.

The key to delegation is to figure out how to get help before reaching that desperate point. Plan ahead, determine what tasks can be delegated, and then how you would go about getting the help. Don’t wait to see how things go, do it at the beginning of a project. Take the time to find the right people who will have the skills and experience you need. Be realistic about your own capacity as well, know when you simply can’t take more on. Be honest with yourself about the necessary time and effort required to get your work done.

If you delegate or ask for help when things are still calm and under control, the project will likely stay on track. And even if something does go wrong, you will have the capacity to fix it since others will “have your back”. Planning ahead also shows respect and consideration to the people who are helping you. Asking for help at the last minute could lead to people feeling like they are “being dumped on” or cornered into helping you because there is no other option.

2)   Be Clear

When you are delegating or asking for help, your communication skills need to be top notch. The main reason why delegation fails is because of poor communication. The other person might not understand the project, or misunderstand your goal. Stepping into another person’s project or task isn’t always easy!

When you are delegating, make sure both deliverables and deadlines are clear. That way, everyone will be working off the same schedule and have everything done at the right times. Never just assume that the other person automatically has the necessary background or information they need to complete a task. Talk to them so they know exactly what will be required of them and if they are able to do it. Make sure that you clarify what your expectations are for the project and their work. For example, do you want them to come to you with any decisions or changes or do you want them to use their own judgement?

Finally, make it very clear in what capacity they are helping you. Are they now a project member? Should they be at meetings related to the project or are you simply looking for an extra pair of hands to help on the side? By clarifying at the start, you can prevent a whole lot of stress and confusion later.

3)   Make it Worth Their While

After a project is completed, genuinely thank them for their time and effort. It’s the art of saying please and thank you. Often times, that simple little bit of courtesy is often all that is required for the other person to feel that their efforts have been honored and recognized by you.

You could also give them feedback for the great work they’ve done, share the credit for the project, and make sure others know of their contribution. After they’ve departed the project, keep them in the loop and explain to them how their efforts tie into the bigger picture so they understand the significance of their work.

Asking for help can be a huge challenge for many people. We all want to believe that we can do it all ourselves, but that kind of a mindset will keep us from reaching our true potential as leaders. The fears and concerns that hold people back from asking for help or delegating may vary, but it is something worth practicing and mastering if you want to advance in your career.