Newspaper article International New York Times

The Benefits of Asking for Help

Newspaper article International New York Times

The Benefits of Asking for Help

Article excerpt

The chief executive of Prudential Group Insurance says she learned in her early days of management that asking for help was O.K.

Lori Dickerson Fouche is chief executive of Prudential Group Insurance.

Q. Were you in leadership roles or doing entrepreneurial things when you were younger?

A.Certainly in high school. I was class president when I was a junior. In my senior year, I joined the Board of Education as the student representative. I also played sports, and was captain of the softball and basketball teams.

Q. Tell me about your parents. How have they influenced you?

A.My dad is an ex-Navy guy who went to work in business. I watched my father be resilient as well as being able to adapt as an African-American man in corporate America. I saw both his successes and his frustrations.

My mom combined her artistic interests -- she worked in a jewelry store -- and did a fair amount of advising young people throughout her life. And my mother would always say to me, "If you don't like your situation, change it." She was pretty strong in that regard. I think she picked up some of that from her own mother, who had to pick and sell dandelion greens to pay for college.

Q. Were there any other favorite family expressions that would get repeated around the dinner table?

A."To whom much is given, much is required." And, "Mediocrity is not a good place to be." We had many childhood conversations around the dinner table about mediocrity. They would say, "You need to work harder than most people do, given your race and gender."

Q. What are some early lessons you learned about being a manager?

A.One was learning how to prioritize. You simply can't do everything. There were times I would walk into a new job, and my eyes would be huge and I would feel like a kid in a candy shop. I'd think, "Let's just get after it," instead of, "O.K., let's pause. What's the most important thing to really get after?" Being able to say "No" or "Not now" were important lessons for me.

Another lesson stemmed from the fact that I had been used to thinking, "I can get through the brick wall. I can make this happen." I was very self-reliant, and I figured that if I could do it, so could the team.

So I overworked some teams pretty early on, and that led to an early lesson around asking for help. It's O.K. not to have all the answers and not to be able to do everything and to put your hand up and say, "I need help." I was so surprised by how people really wanted to help. They loved being invited into the process.

I've learned to be transparent, and to share my thoughts so that other people could follow them. I learned an important lesson from a colleague when I was C.E.O. at another company, who said: "Lori, this is a little bit like being on the train and you're in the front of the train and we're in the dark. …

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