Bouncing back, Lesson 2: Help!


After a very lovely week on holiday behind the handlebars of a bike rather than a computer screen and keyboard, I wanted to share the second thing I’ve learned this year.

To be honest, this one probably shouldn’t have taken til my, ahem, mid thirties. And it is, quite simply, that accepting help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. Strong leaders ask for and accept help. Better late than never!

When the going got tough earlier this year, my wonderful colleagues said “Is there anything I can do to help?”. And I said “no” – I was keeping all those plates spinning and it felt as though letting others get close enough to help would make it look as though I was losing it.

Then I had some time to reflect, and to realise that frankly I *was* losing it. It would have taken 3 super-human versions of me not to be drowning, and fast.

I came back to simple mantra that I’ve found helpful before – that if I want the end result to change, I’m going to have to change something I’m doing.

At first, to be honest, I had support forced on me. But that person did something incredibly empowering, that I definitely hope I’ve learned from when I see others who might need a hand. Rather than ask what they could do, they asked what were the things it was really important to me to achieve over the coming months, which is a much easier question to answer. Crucially, it also made it feel absolutely fine to accept help for some of the things that were getting in the way. After all, I’d already articulated that they weren’t the most important things for me to be doing, right there and then.

Thinking back to that key conversation when I was preparing for a #WomenEd LeadMeet in June, it was so clear that strong leadership means having the humility to seek for and accept help. I’ve always placed an unrealistically high premium on knowing the answers, being able to figure things out myself, and not needing help.

Sometimes you might need to swallow your pride, but if the output for your team, organisation or students will be better if you say ‘yes please’ to help, and it will enable you to focus on your own key goals, what could you possibly lose?

As Seth Godin says, “If you’re doing it by yourself, it’s not leadership.” Can’t say fairer than that. 

Author Profile

Anna Ambrose

Anna Ambrose

Associate Director @ Ambition School Leadership, supporting school leaders at all levels.

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