April 2, 2015
One of the fundamental truths of life, one of those famous lessons learned in kindergarten is that when we are stuck and just can’t seem to solve a problem, the best answer is to ask for help. The reason help from the outside is so important in problem solving comes down to one word — “perspective.” Those outside of a problem, a challenge or an opportunity can look at it and see it from a different vantage point. The outsider can see the whole, while those close up can only see the detail. This truth is so fundamental that it is even found in the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible. Proverbs 12:15 states, “The way of the fool seems right in his own eyes, but he who listens to advice is wise.”
We live in a culture that is dominated by self-imposed expectations of self-reliance and fear of being perceived as under-skilled or under-achieving. In truth, however, it is indeed the smart who seek counsel, ask for help and know their limitations. As a major gift officer struggling to hit his or her goals but not knowing why it is so hard this time; an institutional CEO trying to create the perfect advancement model but to no avail; or the chief development officer who cannot seem to garner any movement from his capital campaign steering committee, our culture would tell them — rely on yourself, pull yourself up, figure it out before you scare people away! In these real settings, the proverb is right — the wise answer is to stop, ask and seek the advice of others. Ask your colleagues, fellow advancement team members or even professional counsel — but ask!
It is indeed true that the smartest one in the room is the person who isn’t afraid to ask the question when they don’t know the answer. Over two millennia ago, the Greek philosopher Plato relayed the wisdom of his teacher Socrates. He wrote, “Socrates asked the oracle at Delphi who was the wisest of men?” The answer came “The wisest person is the one who knows that he does not know.” Every day in the work of fundraising, strategic planning, relationship stewardship and institutional leadership, it is important to ask when we don’t know the answer or have hit the wall of our own resourcefulness. Sometimes, the smartest answer is to ask!