Asking For Help, or How I Reached Out and Became an Accidental Expert

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I was recently telling a story about a time in my career that turned out to be kind of life changing.

The set up: I was always too young for the jobs I had. My peers were often 15 or more years older than I was. I wasted a lot of time hiding my age, pretending to be older.

It seems silly now. If I had it to do again, I would have allowed myself to be more confident sooner.

Anyway, back to the story…

When I got my first general manager job at Hewlett Packard, I was 33. Early into this role, my team had identified a significant gap in our product offering. And, we realized that we did not have the time or expertise to build the technology our own.

So we identified a company that had a technology that would work to fill the gap for us. The business recommendation was that we acquire their technology.

I have no idea how to do this

Although I totally understood the business and technical rationale for this, I had not the faintest idea of how to do a deal like this.

We were not just buying the product or setting up a partnership, we wanted to acquire the technology outright. This was a deal that was going to include things like stock warrants, and term sheets, and lawyers.

My first thought was this: game over — I’m going to get found out.

I don’t know how to do this. A general manager should know how to do this. All of my peers are making deals like this. Once people find out I don’t know how to do this, I’m going to get fired.

After panicking for a few hours, I came to my senses and thought, “Patty, you work at HP. Surely there is someone here who knows how to do this! Go ask for help.”

Ask the experts

After a couple of phone calls, I made my way to the corporate development department — and they were so glad I showed up!

I described the business situation, and before I knew it, I had a team of people educating me about what I needed to know. They gave me list of questions and negotiating points to ask the CEO, and they created a term sheet for me.

I sheepishly took my brand new, paint-still-wet knowledge and a stack of papers into the meeting with the CEO.

I followed the script exactly. We made a deal.

Surprising success

The punch line of the story is that as a result of that deal, I became known as the best deal maker in the group.

How ridiculous is that? Going from thinking I am going to get fired for something I don’t know how to do, to being known as person who is the best at it – in one step!

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It turns out that while my peers were all wheeling and dealing on their own, they were making bad deals for the company. My deal was accretive. It didn’t expose us in any unnecessary way. It had back outs. It had upsides. It was a good deal.

One important lesson I took from this was a reinforcement of something I strongly believe – never fail alone. There is always someone to ask for help. Never let your ego get in the way of asking for help. (Here’s more on asking for help.)

The big “aha

But here is the life-changing learning from this:

I can be even more successful doing something that I don’t know how to do than doing something I know how to do because…

If I know how to do it, I’ll be tempted to just do it myself. So I’ll be limited to my own knowledge.

But If I don’t know how to do it, I will ask for help and get the benefit of experts!

Your team of experts

Asking for help when you feel like you need it is always a great thing to do. But, asking for help from experts even when you don’t feel like you need it can make the difference between getting something done and creating a huge success.

The most successful people get the most help.

They are not so successful because they are so great and smart on their own. It’s because they get the most help.

They have the biggest team of experts.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .

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