Be the CEO of yourself

Ask for what you want

So often, we beat around the bush when others ask us these simple questions: What do you want? What do you need? How can I help you?
I am not a mind reader. (I’m guessing you aren’t, either.) I can’t guess what’s going on in the head of someone who says, “Can you help me?” Help with what? How can I help if I don’t know what you need help with, what you want or what you need?

Most people would be more than willing to help if they knew what they could do to truly benefit the person asking. When we are direct in our requests and ask for what we want, our chances of getting it increase significantly. Sometimes people don’t know how to express what they want. The best thing to do is ask questions so you can get to know the person better. By doing so, you’ll gain insight into their challenges, and you’ll win their influence by inquiring about their lives, troubles, business challenges and hopes.

For example, rather than asking someone, “What do you want me to do about it?” you may instead say, “How would you solve this problem? What are three ways?” Many times, people figure out the solution as they talk to you. They already have the answer to their question but need help processing — they needed someone to stoke their problem-solving engine. Other times, they may identify where they need guidance, and then you will know how you may help, or connect them with others who can.

Most of the time, I cannot help someone directly with a problem but I can make an introduction to someone who can. I can’t perform heart surgery, but I know surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic who are world class. I can’t help a business leverage an opportunity with the U.S. Department of Defense, but I can call former defense secretary William Cohen, a friend, and arrange a meeting. I don’t know how to solve all of the problems that people present to me, but if I can be a conduit and make an introduction to someone who can, then I am being helpful. And that’s my purpose — to help.

In every aspect of life, ask for what you want and listen to what others are asking of you. Seek to solve others’ problems by listening and asking questions to tease out what kind of help they need.

You must be the CEO of yourself and take control of what you want to accomplish. What is the end goal? Why or how can that person be helpful? What do you want? Offer a precise request. Say, “I would really appreciate it if you would help me with this specific issue.” Then explain it.

If you clearly articulate what you want and need, others will help. If you ask for what you want, you’ll increase your chances of getting it. I remind my children of this lesson because I want them to set goals in their lives, and to go after them. I want them to ask for what they want.

We can’t expect others to do the guesswork. We can’t expect our spouses to read our minds, our colleagues to figure out what we’re thinking about, our family to automatically know what we need to feel happy, loved and successful. So just say it. Ask with kindness. Reciprocate by giving when others ask for your help. Seek and you shall find. Ask and you will receive.

>TAKEAWAY Take the lead in your life. You are the CEO. Surround yourself with people who can guide and assist you; being the CEO does not mean you have to do it all. But you do need to take responsibility and ownership over your life.

Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group, a Cleveland-based firm specializing in employee benefits consulting as well as property and casualty risk management solutions.