Hello, my name is Jon, and I am a Recovering Rescuer.
Do you have the reputation of consistently being the hero who jumps in and saves the day? When someone on your team brings you a problem, do you assume you need to take ownership for resolving the issue? Do you ensure your team is on the path to success by paving it for them?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a fellow Rescuer.
We commonly heap praise, recognition and promotions on leaders who always save their teams or organizations from certain peril. But consider the impact to the Rescuer’s followers.
As a Rescuer, you have the good intention of ensuring the success of your team and each individual, but this reputation can come at a high cost. After repeatedly being rescued, teams can become dependent on you. As a result, they will miss learning and growth opportunities and ultimately question their own abilities. Is this your intention? Hopefully not!
With retirement rates across government continuing to increase it is especially critical that government leaders are not inadvertently standing in the way of growth opportunities.
Since first coming across Liz Wiseman’s Multipliers leadership research, I have come to recognize my own Rescuer tendencies and the resulting impact. These revelations literally hit home as I considered how my rescuing behaviors could be interfering in my children’s learning. I realized how my overprotective – and yes, at times helicoptering – behaviors at home were not allowing my children to explore and learn from life’s little bumps.
Fortunately, we have developed several experiments to help minimize the impact of this common, accidental diminisher behavioral tendency. I continually employ each of these tactics and now consider myself a Recovering Rescuer. Start by considering how your rescuing may be having an unintended diminishing impact on others and then experimenting with one of the following:
Name their genius. Do you find yourself saving the same person time and again? If yes, begin by identifying their genius. Discover how this person is smart by determining what they do better than others around them and what they enjoy doing. Don’t question if they are smart, instead ask yourself “How are they smart?” Once you have uncovered their intellectual ‘sweet spot,’ you now have an area where you can start holding back your rescuer tendencies.
Ask the questions. In the past, when someone on my project team would bring an issue to me I would take ownership of the problem without hesitation. Too often this would distract my focus by spending time addressing issues that others could resolve. I took Liz’s advice and began asking questions, starting with questioning my own assumptions.
Was this person sharing their problem because they needed me to ride in on my white horse? Or might they possibly have a plan to address the issue and were simply informing me or wanting to collaborate with me? These types of questions help to slow your immediate rescuing responses and formulate questions to ask. Asking questions such as “How do you think we should handle this?” or “What do you plan to do next?” can help you determine how much of your help, if any, is needed. You may be surprised to find your help is not needed as often as you had assumed.
Give it back. Do you find yourself delegating to others and then retaking ownership at the first sign of trouble? Don’t get me wrong – there are times when leaders need to help a team or individual evade an unacceptable failure. But the trick to avoid a diminishing rescue is to make your contribution and then execute an exit strategy.
The key point action is to “hand the pen back” to ensure that at the end of the day, they retain ownership of the work. You can frame this clearly, using phrases such as “I’m happy to help you think this through, but you are still the lead on this.” Are you holding pens that you should be handing back to your team, allowing them the satisfaction of completing their own work?
Make space for mistakes. Still having trouble letting go? Start small. Carve out those functions or projects within your department where your team can try something new. And if they don’t succeed the first time, they can recover and learn. Put another way, in which situations does the value of learning outweigh the costs of recovery? These are the areas where you can hold back from jumping in too quickly while keeping an eye on how the team progresses - they might even surprise you with a new idea or approach you had not considered!
This tactic will also identify areas where you truly need to step in as a leader to prevent a failure. Sharing both scenarios with your team will help them understand when they can take a risk and when to tread carefully.
If you find yourself rescuing your team too often, what messages are you sending? Are these the messages you want to be received?
When you give other people ownership for their results, you are investing in their success. By holding back on rescuing tendencies, you are providing more opportunity for growth both at work and home.
Which of these will you try? What other approaches have you found useful for allowing teams to complete their own work and solve their own problems without your help in a government environment? Please comment below.