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Nora T. Akins Headshot

Resist the Rescue!

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Some managers, especially those new to the role believe they need to know everything. They see themselves as the answer-man or the go-to-person. This thinking unnecessarily reduces one's confidence and works against the role of manager, coach or leader. Managing is getting things done through others, using people as a resource; not directing each action.

Responding to others' questions with the answers feels good. You might see yourself as a servant-leader, but that is not the case. This person isn't a leader; she is a firefighter, in reaction mode putting one fire out after another. She may feel good about her ability to put fires out, but she really wants approval from others and recognition.

Beware of falling into this role that can also be described as the rescuer. Charlie Sheppard, author of Save Your Drama for Your Mama describes the rescuer as someone with the answers, who avoids confrontation. Sheppard says, "The rescuer sees others as flawed, incapable of handling honest feedback, and unable to help themselves." Rescuers withhold feedback because they don't want to hurt others, and they want to be liked. In the rescuer's eye, she may be saving the person's feelings. In fact, she is setting herself up to continue to rescue.

Holding others accountable is a management skill; a skill that can be learned and requires practice. When done well, it develops people. Sheppard contrast the role of rescuer with coach.

A Rescuer's message to the rescued is, "You are not doing well. It's a good thing that I'm here to save you."

A Coach's message to the coached is, "I'm here to assist you to further develop your own innate potential."

Rescuers take on more work than their own because of their desire to be liked by others. They may also discount the ability or work ethic of others and just do the task because it is easier than getting the work done through others. It avoids conflict and allows them to feel needed and superior.

I demonstrated the rescuer role not long ago in dog agility class. My 110 pound dog was on the dog walk, (a 12-inch wide, 12-foot long plank elevated four feet by two ramps of the same dimension). I was afraid my dog might hurt herself with a misstep and wanted her to protect her. My arm was up with my hand toward her as I walked beside her on the ground. The instructor told me I was demonstrating my lack of confidence in my dog. She was right and my dog wasn't being provided clear direction. My arm up as if to save my big dog's fall was irrational. We tried it again, and we both walked confidently.

As rescuers, we hold our employees back. We make them rely on us; our job as managers is to rely on them to get the work done. Rescuers set low expectations for others because they don't have confidence in their ability. Leaders believe in their followers and openly provide feedback to help others improve. Managers who resist the rescue create a healthy and respectful workplace.

Learn to resist the rescue. Knowing where you are today is an essential step of planning for tomorrow. Identify triggers that throw you into the rescuer role. Recognize that you have a choice to be a rescuer or a coach. Examine the intention you have and the intention you believe of the person who needs help. Use Covey's second habit, "Begin with end in mind." Realize the purpose of your position is to develop the skills of your people. Accept that providing honest feedback is a requirement of any supervisory position. Develop that skill.