Thursday, September 14, 2017

3 Reasons Why Great Leaders Welcome Help

Guest post from Victor Prince:

A few of summers ago, I hiked the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail across Spain. It was the best month of my life for many reasons. Along with a lot of other great things I got by walking almost 500 miles, it also taught me some valuable lessons in leadership.

One lesson came as I stopped for lunch in a café in one quiet, small town and sat by a window while I ate a sandwich. The only sign of life outside was three older men sitting in plastic chairs in the shade in front of a house. They didn’t seem to be talking or doing much other than just sitting next to each other watching pilgrims go by. I supposed it was a better pastime than being inside watching television alone.

A couple of other pilgrims who had just finished eating left the café. They looked around for a yellow arrow and, when they didn’t see any, decided to go to the left. Instantly, the three men sitting in the shade started yelling and pointing to get the pilgrims’ attention. They were pointing them in the other direction to show them the correct way to continue on the Camino. The pilgrims stopped, said thank you and turned to follow the men’s directions.  The old men waved them on and bid them farewell with a “buen camino.”

The speed of their reactions made me think these three men did this regularly. Then it dawned on me these men weren’t just people watching. They were waiting for these opportunities to redirect lost pilgrims. They were perfectly positioned across the street from the only café in town. The corner they were on would have been an ideal place for a painted yellow arrow corners like that usually had. The suspicious part of me wondered if these guys were sitting in front of the arrow to obscure it so their help would be needed.

I finished my sandwich a few minutes later. As I walked out, I too looked for an arrow, and when I didn’t see one, I purposely went the wrong way. Once again, the old men leapt into action and pointed me in the other direction. I thanked them and they wished me a good walk. I smiled as I wondered how many times they had done this ritual before.

As I walked on, that interaction made me think about how I offered and received help in my career. I loved giving advice. If someone sought my advice, I took it as a sign of respect. It gave my ego a boost. It made me feel helpful.

On the flip side, however, I realized I didn’t ask others for advice very often. If I didn’t know something, I would rather figure it out myself. I didn’t want to show weakness. I didn’t want to bother other people. And if people gave me unsolicited advice, I would often be defensive, and take it as criticism. Far from welcoming help from others, I pushed it away.

A light bulb went off with me that told me to be more welcoming of help from others at work for three reasons:

1.    I actually need help sometimes. I have a lot of expertise and experience, but I don’t have all the answers to all the problems and opportunities that arise at work. Whenever I can swallow my pride and ask for help, I can make better decisions. 

2.    It makes others feel good to help. When I do ask for help, I don’t only benefit from the assistance I receive, I also make the helper feel good. That helps me build a stronger relationship with the person helping me. The person helping me is investing in my success. That can help me get their support in the future. I am also giving them the same ego boost and sense of value I get when I provide help. Simply by enabling others to grant the gift of help, I am also giving a gift.

3.    I should model the behavior to others. As a leader, I would be showing the value of welcoming help. It would empower me to demand that people on my team also welcome help. If I modeled that behavior, I could make it explicit in their goals and expected competencies.

Great leaders are always looking to improve themselves. Sometimes that starts by asking others for help.


About the Author: Victor Prince is an author and speaker who teaches strategy, communication, and leadership skills to clients around the world. Victor’s new book, The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain, comes out in July 2017 from the American Management Association in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. You can find his books, training courses, keynote speeches and more at


Rootsofaleader said...

As I told my son this morning: "A Teacher should always remain a student"

Great post.


Micole Kaye said...

Love this advice. It's so true that great leaders ask for help or even just input! People feel good knowing that they have helped others or that their voice matters. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

This is a great post and really coincides with my readings in my leadership class. Currently, we are reading on different leadership theories and how they emerge. Some theorist suggest that leaders emerge due to their own personality traits while others suggest that it is purely situational. In the scenario of the men in this story, I can see it being a combination of the two. The men would not have been able to emerge as leaders if the sign was not completely visible (situational). In turn, if the men weren't stewards willing to take on this role then the patrons of the café would be lost (personality). Whether the men were doing this just to help others or because they felt needed, I think this story shows how an leader can emerge from something small. This also shows that leadership can take many forms and emerge from a combination of factors.

- Kendra, MS.Ed Candidate