How Can You Give Someone "A Leg Up?"

Apr 3, 2018 12:01:15 PM Sarah Rymer

I expect you have heard the expression, “he gave me a leg up.”  We know by dictionary definition this expression means “the act of giving someone assistance, or giving them a boost.”  It also refers to gaining some form of advantage.

Here is an interesting explanation of the origin of this term:


                The expression "gives a leg up" means to help. It comes from the pre-auto age.
                Imagine a person having difficulty trying to get up on a horse. Someone,
                usually a servant, would put one knee on the ground - the other leg would
                bend creating a step for the rider to use.

walk-2635038_1920A number of years ago I came across the book, “Connecting:  The Mentoring Relationships You Need To Succeed In Life.” It was co-written by Paul Stanley and Robert Clinton and published in 1992. While we have all heard about the benefits of having mentors in your life this book broke down the concept of mentoring into ten different models of how mentoring works to help people succeed.

The authors divide mentoring into two categories, one is intensive mentoring and the other is occasional mentoring. One form of occasional mentoring was called “The Sponsor.”  When I first read this description of mentors who sponsor you I immediately thought of the benefits I gained from two different men who had status, respect and positions of leadership. By having friendships with them and having their endorsement, I gained immediate credibility before I had really done anything to deserve it.

In one situation I had just moved to Taiwan and was beginning cross-cultural work. The leader of our team had already lived and worked there for 25 years. He had great language skills, was an accomplished speaker and had a broad network of friends that he had cultivated over two and a half decades. He invited me to travel with him for meetings, had my wife and I over for meals and frequently asked me to play tennis with him. He was a valuable sounding board for questions I had as I adjusted to the Chinese world. 

In those early years I gained credibility, good will and advantageous introductions to people through my relationship with him and his informal sponsorship.

The Chinese have an expression, “Tuo Tade Fu.”  This is similar to the English phrase, “to ride a person’s coat tails.” In the Chinese expression, you gain an advantage by your close association with another person, almost as if you gain a portion of the blessings surrounding them.

How does this relate to us? We know the real world importance of good will in networks and relationships.  It creates opportunities and a predisposition to extend trust. Each of us have a measure of status in our circles of relationships whether they are social or professional – And we can leverage that status to benefit newcomers!

Are we aware that we can “give others a leg up” as they get started in a new project or adjust to a new country?  Our endorsement, our inclusion, our speaking well of them can help them more than we often imagine.

Over these next month’s think how you can figuratively bend down and give someone else a boost!


About the Author: Ron is the Director of Community Life for Asia and travels often to give IDEAS Associates a leg up. Enjoy Ron's other blog posts, including Keeping Confident as you Face the Unknown.





Related Articles