Career Advice | Former Marine is a great worker but refuses all help.

Share story

Q: I have a talented new employee with one serious problem. “Stan” is a former Marine who has extremely high standards and an outstanding work ethic. However, he absolutely refuses to ask for help. He says his military training makes asking for assistance seem like weakness.

My team routinely deals with complex technical issues, and no one person has all the necessary knowledge. Collaboration is critical to our success, but Stan always tries to figure things out on his own. His lack of experience creates issues that others have to fix.

Whenever I ask Stan if he needs help, he always says no. I’ve tried using sports analogies, but that hasn’t worked. How should I handle this?

A: New hires who were successful in another field frequently resent being back in a learning curve. To help Stan see the benefit of consulting with co-workers, explain how gaining this knowledge will actually accelerate his autonomy.

At the same time, you must clearly explain that collaboration will always be a necessary and non-negotiable aspect of this job. Since sports comparisons haven’t helped, try relating to Stan’s military experience. Complex military operations require extensive teamwork, and lone rangers are often dangerous.

Because people sometimes hesitate to seek help from the boss, consider asking an experienced and respected colleague to serve as Stan’s mentor. This should not only improve his technical abilities, but also provide him with a role model for collaborative working relationships.

But if all coaching fails and Stan stubbornly insists on going it alone, then you’ll have to decide whether his independent nature fits with your company’s collaborative culture. Just be sure to make that decision before the end of his probationary period.

Forced to pay their own dues

Q: Our CEO recently told the management team that if we don’t join our industry’s trade association, we are being “professionally irresponsible.” He has been active in this group for many years. Because we have to pay our own dues, we have previously viewed membership as a personal choice. If our boss insists on it, shouldn’t the company subsidize the cost?

A: That would certainly be a reasonable expectation, so perhaps you should find out whether your CEO is indeed reasonable. Get with your team members and develop a plan for presenting this request. Instead of complaining about payment, be sure to emphasize all the ways that membership can help the company.

If the request fails, then you must each assess the career benefits of joining this organization. For anyone staying with the company, pleasing the CEO would be a plus. For anyone remaining in the industry, valuable connections could be made. But everyone else might just want to keep their money.

Taking action on office hoarder

Q: I have a comment on the recent question about the office hoarder. At my university, we called in the local fire inspector to address the extreme hoarding of several professors. Their offices were dangerous fire traps and, in one case, hosted a family of mice. The threat of regular inspections and fines quickly solved the problem.

A: Thanks for sharing your story. When mice start nesting in the clutter, then it’s definitely time for a cleanup!

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at