Can a Leader Help too Much?
About 10 years ago, I jokingly told my manager that I was going to file for workman’s comp because I had an eye twitch that wouldn’t go away. Every 20 minutes my eye would spasm, and it continued for about four months! True story. The reason? I was DEEPLY engaged in Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) work and spent hours analyzing data and Excel spreadsheets so I could offer useful data to my internal clients. So, yeah, I did it to myself. ONA is an assessment that looks to identify informal networks in an organization including specific roles such as ‘brokers’ and ‘connectors’, those people who facilitate information flow and decisions—and are integral in collaboration. I’ve recently re-engaged in this work and am fascinated by the behaviors of the key connectors and brokers. These people are naturals at networking, and they are the most influential and in-the-know employees in their organizations. In terms of motivators, what do most of them have in common? The desire to help others! And can you guess what many find as their biggest challenge?
The desire to help others! (You saw that coming, I know). The upside is that these key connectors put their energy into relationships and helping others. The downside is that when they focus too much on others (and neglect their own self-care), they burn out. In addition, when you step in to help too much, you may unintentionally send the message that “I don’t trust you to handle the issue” or “I don't think you’re capable of doing it yourself.” Growing up as a middle child and having that strong desire to help others, I’ve always been intrigued by this topic and wanted to share some distinctions around a few terms that I’m hoping you’ll find helpful to apply to your work and life.
In what ways do we help?
To be sure, caring for others is essential to relationship building. But being overly helpful or empathetic can exhaust and wear down the best of us. In our CBODN book club meeting this month, Dana Pulley facilitated a discussion on the book, The Mind of The Leader, and briefly referenced some distinctions around empathy, sympathy, and compassion.
How to do BOTH—Care for Self AND Others
Compassion is a key skill for leaders. By showing compassion, you understand the feeling someone has, but do not hold their pain. You protect yourself from the burden of the pain or suffering that the other person is feeling. You also keep yourself whole, which can allow you to give, and be of service to the person.
When someone is struggling with a challenge, sometimes what they need to hear most is, “I am sorry you are facing this AND I have faith in your ability to manage it.” By showing compassion, and reinforcing their ability, you can support them and retain a healthy distance to protect yourself from emotional contagion.
I’d love to hear what ideas this sparks for you, and what works for you.
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