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I like the Aretha Franklin song Rescue Me.  The beginning lyrics go like this:

Rescue me

Oh take me in your arms

Rescue me

I want your tender charms

So what does this have to do with being a manager?  Turns out a lot.

Victims and Rescuers

I was referred by Seth Godin to a recently published book by author Michael Bungay Stanier titled The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, & Change the Way You Lead Forever.  The book is a must read for anyone looking to fine tune their coaching skills.  The book is organized around 7 questions to ask when you are in coach mode.  There is a reference to The Drama Triangle by Stephen Karpman.  Two of the corners of this triangle are victims and rescuers.  It seems that most of us managers like to go into rescue mode the minute we see one of our people struggling.  Without meaning to, we might actually create victims so we can play the role of rescuer.  Or worse, our people learn to play victim because they know it will get us to do their jobs for them.

So why do we like to rescue people and is there any harm in doing it?

Let Me Show You How It’s Done

First, you were once responsible for doing the work.  You did it well.  You received praise and recognition for how well you performed doing the work.  You were one of the best.  Naturally, you like to on occasion “show off your stuff”.  For you, seeing one of your newbies struggling to perform a task, is a great chance to jump in and show them “how it’s done.

Be aware that the message received by your struggling newbie isn’t necessarily a positive one.  Yes you showed them it can be done and it can look easy when done right, but your jumping in may be misconstrued as the job getting done is more important than the development of the newbie’s skills.  Also you risk embarrassing them if your “take over” is on display for all to see.

The Wise Sage

Another reason we rescue people on our teams who are having difficulty with performance is we want to be helpful and to offer up the benefit of our wisdom and experience.  For us, this is how we add value.

The challenge here is that we want to give them answers before they have questions.  Think about your own experience.  Think about some of your best learning experiences.  You tried, you failed, you tried again, and again you failed, but this time you saw some pattern starting to emerge.  You couldn’t wait to try again, almost sure you would still fail, but knowing you would be one step closer to succeeding.  Don’t take away the learning process by jumping in with answers, hoping somehow they’ll thank you later for your wisdom and knowledge.

Our goal as managers should be to encourage growth which requires learning growth processes.

We Value Performance Over Development

If we’re honest, sometimes we rescue them because our goals are at stake and we believe we can’t afford to let the development cycle run it’s course.  That’s short term thinking.  Once you go down this path, you will find yourselves always lacking the true benefit of a developed performer who needs less and less of your time and continues to increase their output as a result of a good fundamental development experience.

What’s the Better Alternative?

Giving people the answers before they have the questions is not good practice.  The better alternative is to ask them questions that point them towards coming up with solutions on their own.  This doesn’t mean you don’t answer questions or give suggestions, but you want to build up their problem solving mindset.

Examples might be questions that help them focus on what’s really the issue when you think they are distracted by the emotion of a problem.  Another important technique is to remind them that this is their job not yours.  It’s ok to ask them how you can help, but it’s important that they figure that part out.

Transformational Exercise

Commit to keeping a journal for one week of each of your one-on-one interactions with those who report to you.  Notate whether the interaction was initiated by you or them.  Also mark down whether it was a good developmental interaction or more of a rescue, and why.  Purchase a copy of The Coaching Habit and commit to strengthening your ability to coach for development.

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