Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries, who is on the faculty at INSEAD, wrote an article with this title for the Harvard Business Review’s July/August 2023 issue.  The article interested me as one of the Burke Learning Agility Inventory dimensions is called Interpersonal Risk-Taking.  One of the four aspects of this dimension is “Asks Others for Help.”  Over the years of working with people who have taken the Burke Assessments, I have found this area of asking for help is one that many people don’t see themselves as proficient.  In many cases, this is an “opportunity” for more junior employees and for women.  Why is that?  We’ll get more into that shortly.  Overcoming this concern and turning it into a learning agility capability and/or a capability, in general, represents a tremendous upside opportunity for someone’s potential and success.

When I am conducting a feedback session with someone on their Burke Assessment Report, and if Interpersonal Risk-Taking and Asking for Help are one of the person’s lowest scores, I try to dig deeper to understand what is going on.  I start by asking, is that accurate?  Is that you?  If they say yes, I ask why that is.  Sometimes, the person is able to respond.  They might say that in their position they are expected to know, and if they don’t, it will reflect negatively on them.  Other times, people can’t put their finger on it, and I ask them for a specific example of where they could have asked for help and why they didn’t.  Usually, we can then identify a reason such as not wanting to appear inept or incompetent.  In either case, the person is making an assumption about the situation by not asking for help, whereas doing the opposite would likely have improved the outcome.

In his article, de Vries cites the following reasons that get in the way of people asking for help in his work.  They are:

  • Fear of being vulnerable
  • Needing to be independent
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of rejection
  • Over-empathizing with others
  • A sense of victimhood

Every one of the reasons given to de Vries makes untested assumptions about people, places, and things, which limits the person’s response.  de Vries cites some solutions which we will examine further.  Asking for help is part of Interpersonal Risk-Taking in the Burke Learning Agility Assessment.  Being able to calibrate risk is hugely important to make progress in this area on the Burke.   In our book, Developing Learning Agility-Using the Burke Assessments,  we discuss defining risk in a measurable way.  If I am working with a person on increasing their risk-taking and evaluate a situation on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being low and 5 being high, I may describe the risk as a “2” and the other person may describe the risk level of the same situation as a “5”. It is doubtful we will make much progress until we improve our calibration using the same yardstick.  Establishing a common yardstick or common way to talk about a situation has proven to be a key factor in helping someone make progress in the area of asking for help.   de Vries calls what I described as Reframing.  I am comfortable with that.  There is another aspect of learning agility I would add, however, I will hold back on that for now.

de Vries’ solutions fall into five categories:

  • Reframing
  • Seek Counsel
  • SMART Approach
  • Communicate
  • Practice

I  will not go through these one by one as I have talked about aspects of them already.  In Burke’s terms, “Seek Counsel” is where you get the results of the assessment and accept there is room to improve.  You talk to someone who can help you with that. “Practicing” is what we are talking about by doing something a different way.  “Communicate” is being clear about the help you want and don’t want.  It is acceptable to set boundaries on the help you are requesting.  de Vries’ SMART category stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Phased.  In my opinion this is making your request clear to someone, including the time frame.  They can then respond accordingly.

Let me come back to de Vries’  category of Reframing.  In Burke’s Assessment, there is a whole dimension that involves Flexibility.  In essence, you are looking at a situation and using a different lens or framework to describe what is going on.  Burke is looking at risk-level in Reframing but Flexibility is including the potential of a whole new paradigm to describe how the parts fit together.  de Vries’ “Communicating”  references reaching out to others and making yourself more available.  In the Burke Assessment there is a separate dimension focused on Collaborating.  There are things the person does to create connections and relationships inside and outside the organization.

Clearly, Burke and de Vries see the value of Asking for Help as vital to an employee’s success.   de Vries has more of a practitioner’s view in this area.  I share that practitioner’s viewpoint, but Burke’s research behind the subject gives the subject greater credibility and fidelity.

About the Author

David Hoff is the COO and EVP of Leadership Development for E.A.S.I-Consult®E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I-Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring advisement. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.