By Melanie Foley, Executive Vice President, Talent and Enterprise Services, Liberty Mutual Insurance
Going it alone is incredibly overrated. And yet as a society we cling to this romanticized image of fiercely independent individuals forging ahead on their own. What drives that? Why is it—when each of us has access to our own network of friends, family and colleagues—that we consider it weak to ask any of them for help? This is a mindset that needs to stop. Let me share with you how I overcame the go-it-alone syndrome and built my career on harnessing the power of my network.
It starts with my mother. A single woman raising two kids in the Boston projects, my mother was never afraid to ask for help. I saw firsthand how she asked family members to pitch in so that she could pursue her nursing degree at night in order to make a better life for us. She even tapped me for help—asking for my tooth-fairy money to buy groceries when funds were low. Her successful use of her network and her matter-of-fact approach to asking for help has defined and informed my entire career.
From my days as a part-time bank teller to my role today as executive vice president at a Fortune 100 company, the following strategies has served me well:
#1. Ask questions.
Just because we are smart and successful doesn’t mean we have all the answers. Asking questions helps build your knowledge base and makes you more effective. It also is a good way to challenge existing processes and ensure you aren’t doing something because “it’s always been done this way.” One person asking a question provides everyone an opportunity to bring new thinking to a situation.
#2. Seek advice and feedback.
Your network gives you access to people with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives who can offer another way of looking at an issue. How many times has someone made a comment by happenstance that made you say, “I hadn’t thought about it that way.” Now imagine how much stronger your strategy would be if you actively tapped into your network for feedback and new thinking.
#3. Be a resource for others.
You are as much a part of other people’s network as they are of yours. Leave time in your schedule to be a source of advice and feedback for others. I have often found that while the intent of the discussion was for me to provide advice, I inevitably come away from these conversations with new insight—as well as an expanded network.
#4. Expand your network.
Don’t limit your network to people you know. Seek out others inside and outside your company who can help broaden your experience and perspective and support your growth. If your company has employee resource groups—comprised of colleagues from different departments across the organization—they are an especially valuable, and easily-accessible, source of diverse thinking both on a personal and professional level.
#5. Use flexible work options.
I have a great appreciation for work-life flexibility programs—work from home, flex hours, compressed workweek—which is why I made implementing them a priority when I became EVP of talent and enterprise services. Wherever you are in your career, having an accommodating work schedule allows you to help your family and be effective at work. If your company offers flexible work options, use them. You’re not doing the company—or yourself—any favors by burning the candle on both ends. Life happens, and it happens to everyone.
Seeking advice, asking for help and using the resources available make you smart—not weak. And if you are a leader in your organization, it is even more important for you to do this because your actions will be mirrored by others. When employees see you actively using flex time; when they see you meeting with colleagues in different departments; when they see you asking questions in meetings—your actions will show them that it is safe, and acceptable, for them to do the same.
Each of us brings a lifetime of multi-dimensional experiences and thinking to every situation. By cultivating and leveraging our robust networks and using all of the resources available, we become stronger, smarter and more effective individuals and have a greater impact on those around us.