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Leaders Must Stop Doing It Alone. Help is Waiting If You Ask.

I recently streamed a conversation with author and leadership coach Sally Helgesen on LinkedIn Live. Many of our personal leadership experiences intersected with one another—one of which is our view on seeking out feedback as a leader. I’m a big believer in evaluating your own strengths and weaknesses and the power of vulnerability. Without the ability to admit you have limitations, you can’t improve.

Sally agrees with this philosophy and has, in fact, dedicated one of her chapters in How Women Rise to the topic of not doing it alone. In our live chat, we talked about three strategies she recommends for leaders:  

Not doing it alone

Sally explains the importance of asking, “Who can I talk to about this?” when presented with an opportunity or mulling over a difficult situation. She adds that colleague Marshall Goldsmith and his research partner discovered that leaders who were most successful at long-term behavioral changes had one thing in common: They didn’t try to do it alone.

Peer coaching

For twelve years and counting, Sally and one of her colleagues have met on a weekly basis to offer each other peer coaching. They are very diligent about how they structure the call; they don’t just ask, “How’re you doing?” Instead, they say, “This is what I want to work on this month; here are some of the possible tripping points, and here are the opportunities.” She explains how this relationship has been rewarding for both parties. “I have benefited beyond description from peer coaching.”

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Informal enlistment

Leaders who want feedback about growth areas they’ve identified can ask others to “put their eyes on a problem.” For instance, if you’re someone who wants to improve how you’re participating in meetings, you might say, “I’ve gotten some feedback that I need to be a more effective speaker in meetings. Could you watch me and let me know if there’s something I can do to improve?” Sally adds that informal enlistment not only helps you “get out of yourself and your own fears,” but it gives you allies. Ultimately, Sally says you’re leveraging the relationships you have in service of self-development, which is very powerful.

There was a time during my tenure at Prologis when I experienced the benefits of each of these strategies Sally recommends. I recall two very helpful weekly calls with advisers who were essential to me during the economic downturn in 2008. Not doing it alone was crucial to success since my first few months on the job depended upon evaluating the current situation and formulating a plan to recover from our financial challenges.

One of my weekly phone consultations was with our board chair. He was instrumental in keeping me focused on the board’s expectations as they related to communications. He helped me think through many of the challenging day-to-day operations, and he also advised me on how to handle our asset investment and disposition issues.

Another supportive phone call was with a peer in The CEO Forum, a unique organization designed to create support for executives. My colleague and I talked every Monday morning about the moral and emotional challenges I experienced in my position. He provided a valuable external and objective perspective. I couldn’t have made it through that downturn with as much confidence if it weren’t for the consistent meetings I had with both of these leaders.

Leading with Emotional Courage author Peter Bregman provides closing thoughts to remember. He says to leaders, “You are not weak; you have weaknesses. There is a difference. And from this place of humanness, that can hold both strengths and weaknesses, we can do the most leaderly thing there is: Ask for help.”

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