While driving near campus the other day, I noticed a student who was obviously visually impaired. I could tell he was panicked as he continued to walk in the same circle over again, unable to get his bearings and figure out where he was.
I parked my car in the middle of the street, jumped out, walked up to him, put my hand on his shoulder, and asked “Are you in trouble?” He replied, “Yes, I am, I need some help.” He was trying to get to the campus bookstore and was on the wrong side of campus. I told him I was a professor and that if he would trust me I would walk him to my car and take him to the bookstore. I also gave him my phone number and told him to call me if he ever had a problem in the future.
I tell this story because, afterward, I wondered why no one else had assisted him — and started class by asking my students if they had seen the visually impaired student. A few raised their hands. Next, I asked why didn’t you stop? They couldn’t really explain.
I concluded they didn’t stop because they didn’t know themselves well enough to stop. It’s human instinct (or should be). It’s an innate response to help, but far too many of us have lost that connection.
Teacher, trainer, author and counselor Chip Dodd runs the Center for Professional Excellence in Nashville. In his book “Lead Well,” Mr. Dodd said good things happen to “known” people. And I think that idea applies here.
“People who are known ask for help, receive help, and give help. Good things happen to people who are known,” Mr. Dodd writes. “If I can tell my story truthfully and the feelings that go with it, I am known.”
“People who are known guide, attract, teach, notify, exhort, educate, encourage, and need well,” he adds. “They give in their vulnerability and their competence. They have a passion to move towards a vision of life.”
What exactly does Mr. Dodd mean, then, by “known?” He is most certainly not talking about what your average business person, marketer or brand expert traditionally would think. To be known, to them, means having a business card ready to dispense, being a networker every hour of the day, and presenting yourself as a polished brand ready to connect. Those things are well and good. But what Mr. Dodd also means is that to be “known” means you have entered into real relationships, opened yourself up and become exposed to other people and the world, and have actually connected in a way that other people now know you.
Leadership is having those kinds of relationships. I think part of what we are challenged to do in leadership roles is to learn how to ask for help from other people, give help to people who need it, and also how to need well. There’s this notion in the world today that needing help is a weakness when in reality the world has become so complex that being needy is not about weakness; instead, it is about being “known.”
Writer and University of Texas professor Brené Brown has emphasized the most basic need people have is to connect and feel connected. So whether you are a millennial, a manager, a professor, a student, or a visually impaired man, and feeling connected, giving into your vulnerability and competence, asking for help, receiving help and giving help is the path to good things happening. Be known.