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Diversity Today

Why Being Vulnerable At Work Is A Good Thing

Estimated reading time ~ 4 min
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Let's be honest … No matter how successful or advanced, every pro was once an amateur. At some point they needed the one thing very few people like to admit they need: Help.

Asking for help means allowing yourself to be vulnerable, but being vulnerable goes against just about every business or professional training I've ever received. I was taught to show everyone I was strong – that I could handle it all on my own. Yet, when I decided to move from Florida to New York, I was drowning in my own pride.

Asking for help can be uncomfortable. But it’s important to remember that others have gone before you and have achieved the level of success you desire (or at least somewhere close to it!). They’re part of your “success GPS.” After all, getting from point A to B is easiest with a guide. You can activate your GPS by asking for help, whether it’s about business development, networking, salary negotiations, or professional snafus.

During my move to New York, I had to ask for help. It was the best decision I've made to date. I had saved what I thought was a considerable amount of money to become a full-time entrepreneur, but after 90 days of living in NYC, I didn’t have enough clients to maintain my living expenses. I was out of cash. I reached out to a sponsor and friend and, through strained tears, I explained what happened and that I needed help finding a job. She connected me to one of her contacts who was managing Disney star Zendaya Coleman’s new fashion line. I interviewed on a Tuesday and began as the strategic marketing director for Daya by Zendaya that following Thursday. I’ve worked with the brand for more than a year, simply because I asked for help.

Asking for help requires the one thing business school doesn't teach you: how to be vulnerable enough to admit you need support. These five tips will show you how to use your vulnerability to progress in your career, no matter which stage or phase of life you're in:

1. Develop key strategic relationships.

There are three key relationships every professional should cultivate. It's difficult to ask for help if you've isolated yourself. Your success in life is directly connected to the relationships you've developed. Understand that building connections take time, so you’ll need to invest in these relationships before you ask for a favor. Think of these relationships as a garden. Before you can enjoy the fruit from it, you'll first have to plant the seeds. These three types of relationships are game-changers for your career:

Mentor: A trusted advisor or guide who provides direction or counsel, and consults on a wide range topics and situations.

Sponsor: An advocate who can use his or her influence to help you make more money (ie, get a promotion or bring in revenue) and/or assist with your overall personal growth.
Fairy Godparent (a phrase learned from ColorComm): A person who can completely change your life by making one phone call.

2. Be honest.

In order to truly ask for help and clearly articulate your needs, you have to be honest with yourself first. During my move, I had to get real: I didn’t have enough clients to cover my business expenses. Honestly articulating your needs allows your mentor, sponsor, or fairy godparent to provide the right type of help at the right time.

3. Be specific.

No one can read your mind. You will have to ask for what you need. And you will need to do it as clearly and directly as possible. First, pick up the phone, or ask to meet in person. This isn’t a text conversation. Then, when you get ready to make your ask, condense it to no more than two 140 character tweets. Your mentor, sponsor, and/or fairy godparent are busy people. Deciphering what you truly need takes time away from them actually helping you. Do the pre-work to ensure you’re able to clearly articulate your needs.

4. Know what you bring to the table.

Yes, you need help, but in the spirit of being an asset to whoever you meet, always bring something of value to the relationship. In the development of each of the relationships identified above, do your homework on each person, so when you connect you can bring something of value to help them too.

5. Follow up and follow through.

After your initial “ask,” schedule a reminder in your calendar to follow up on your request two weeks later if no progress has been made. If things have still not progressed by then, allow an additional two weeks. Be sure to include a reminder of what was discussed, what you need, and how grateful you are for his or her time assisting you. If you still see no progression, connect with the person once a week sending helpful articles relevant to his or her industry or desires. This will keep you top of mind while serving as a reminder of what you need. If you do get the help you need, don’t forget to follow up with a thank you note that updates them on your progress.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: People can do a lot of things, but they can’t read minds. Asking for help can be uncomfortable, yes, but your greatest growth is usually found outside of your comfort zone. When you need help, you have to say so.

Image courtesy of The Jopwell Collection

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