Only smart people know they are dumb

I cannot remember if I read this line or heard it in a movie but the sentiment has resonated with me ever since. Every day I live my life trying to be smart by accepting, exploring and attempting to understand what I do not know, then working to fill my knowledge gaps. I also make sure to ask for help whenever I need it.

In my youth I used to think that asking for help was a sign of weakness or incompetence. I now know that accepting the gaps in our understanding and being brave enough to ask for help is actually a sign of strength.

Now, more than ever, we all must remind ourselves that we are all dumb in some ways. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic of the kind that none of us has previously worked through, led through or lived through. We are all testing and learning, trying to find the best way to move forward. There are no experts or case studies to rely on. We are all just making the best decisions we can with the knowledge we have to hand in the moment.

As a coach and a leader, I work with individuals to help them build their careers, leadership capabilities and skills. And, oftentimes, the first barrier that leaders have to break through is the barrier of needing to be always right, knowledgeable and in control.

I am sure we have all been that person at times and have probably worked with this sort of leader at some point. This is the person who does not believe or will not accept they are wrong, who won’t ask for help because they are too embarrassed to look stupid, who does not want to bother anyone else, who will not admit they are struggling in any way, or who is trying to prove they are the smartest person in the world. Simply, this is the person who cannot be smart because they are too scared to accept that there are some things that they do not know and that they – like all of us – need others’ help and support.

For recovery after the current world crisis, in a personal, professional and a business sense, now is the time we need to accept that sometimes we are dumb, and we therefore need to practise being smart enough to ask for help when we need it.

The following are all great pathways for finding the help you need.

1. Ask your manager.

There are many definitions of an effective manager, most of them centring around the responsibilities of ensuring that tasks are executed, and that employees are hired, fired, and kept productive. My definition is slightly different. I define great leaders as those who enable, empower and support their employees to fulfil the needs of the organisation. Your leader’s role is to make sure you have everything you need to get your job done well and to prepare you for the next step.

I follow the ‘strategy, talent, effort’ model of achievement. This means that when something is not working out, it will be due to one of these factors. If you are unsure about or unable to achieve your goals or complete your tasks, ask yourself the following questions.Am I unable to achieve my goals due to lack of a strategy?

Strategy is an issue when you are not sure about what you actually need to do or why. You might be unsure how this task fits in with wider business objectives or what exactly is required from you. As a manager you can test if people are clear about the overall strategy in which they are involved by asking them to repeat the requirements and expectations to you. Asking the question ‘Do you know what to do?’ is unhelpful because a ‘yes’ answer does not prove understanding. Your employee may think they know but you can’t actually be certain until they express it explicitly to you.

Am I unable to achieve my goals due to lack of talent?

Talent is an issue when you do not have the skills to execute a task. Here you know what you need to do but you do not know how to do it. If you find yourself in this situation you may need coaching, training or other resources. Do not be shy about improving your skills. When you think about it, what is more dumb – recognising you have a skill gap and addressing it or not asking for help?

Am I unable to achieve my goals due to lack of effort?

You will know if effort is an issue. Simply, are you doing your best? Are you putting in the work or not? If you are not doing the work you cannot expect to get the results.

2. Google it.

If you need help or have a skills or talent gap, reach out to find out the information you need. Information is at our fingertips – you can learn anything from Google, webinars, podcasts, books, seminars and YouTube. Invest in yourself – time, money and effort.

3. Ask your networks.

Ask people in your networks for help and information. Generally, I have found that people are happy to help those who really want to learn. As a coach I have found that what stops us asking for help is rarely the lack of a network or people to ask. We usually do not ask for help because we are too embarrassed, scared, shy, proud or, sometimes, too lazy.

Do not be too proud – or too arrogant – to ask for help when you need it.

Consider joining forums or groups, either online or in the real world. Or maybe even start your own ‘mastermind’ group with others in your industry.

4. Speak to HR.

HR is there to support and enable you. If you have a technical gap, speak to them about potential avenues for training or development. If you need help because of stress, issues at home or other concerns, make sure you share them with your manager and HR. Most organisations have support systems, including EAP programs.

5. Have a coach or mentor.

Obviously, I am biased and a huge advocate of coaching and mentoring. We know, and research proves, that coaching works. Coaching delivers decreased absenteeism, 35% improvement in leadership skills and a 33% increase in business deliverables; 96% of organisations report improvements in individuals’ performance, while 92% testify to improvements in leadership and management effectiveness as a result of coaching (The Effectiveness of Executive Coaching). This is why we created Peeplcoach. We believe that every person should have an equal opportunity for coaching and equal access to an expert coach to help them accelerate their professional and business success.

As we move through COVID-19 and beyond, it is critical to be smart, to consider different possibilities and options, to ask for help, and to accept that at times we are dumb. Do not let arrogance, fear, pride or embarrassment hold you back from being successful. After all, who is the smartest person in the room? The person who knows they do not have all the answers and asks for help, or the person who pretends they have all the answers and then falls flat on their face trying to do it all themselves?

So, as you think about your opportunities in the future, decide whether you want to be the person who thinks they already know it all or the truly smart person who recognises their limitations and knows when to ask for help?

And of course, if you would like to find out more about our Peeplcoach programs please connect with us here.