Asking For Help
This is the third post in our series “The Guts of Leadership.”
General John Barry was the executive director for the investigation of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. He recently presented for NAPT’s Leading Every Day initiative. Among the many insights he offered about NASA’s mindset prior to the disaster was one which was particularly salient: “Asking for help is a measure of strength – not weakness. “
As I gave my presentation “Owning It: Creating and Hiring Owners in Your Transportation Operation,” I realized that the General’s words apply as much in our departments as they do at NASA. The space agency is known for hiring only the best and the brightest. The hallways in their headquarters in Houston are full of passionate, driven people. The pupil transportation industry’s best departments are equally populated with people who really care about students and will work incredibly hard to serve them.
Unfortunately, a department full of owners can fall prey to the same syndrome which plagued NASA’s Columbia mission. When a problem arises we just work harder to overcome it. Our top performers don’t want to admit they can’t easily solve the problem. Regrettably, they won’t let themselves believe that, perhaps, the students would be better served if they had the guts to stand up and ask for help. Sometimes they don’t ask because they incorrectly fear the damage to their reputations or even their own self-image(ego). Sometimes they don’t ask because they’re just selfishly stubborn. And other times they actually have mistakenly convinced themselves that if they work just a little harder they’ll be able to solve the problem. Regardless of the rationale, we have far too many committed hard workers that just don’t have the guts to ask for help.
When I was an IT manager, recognizing that I too had these tendencies, I had a sign on my wall which simply said “Stop Banging Your Head on the Wall.” This was my reminder to take a step back when I ran into a particularly thorny problem. If the problem required an immediate solution I’d swallow my pride and seek a different perspective from my co-workers. Over time we became a much more productive department because we learned to seek help more easily and to give help willingly.
We all want owners, but what we really want is owners with enough guts to ask for help when our critical mission requires it.