Most women love to help, to rescue, to make what hurts all better. We have been programmed for centuries to be the caretaker. It is often a wonderful and powerful position…. most of the time.
Except when you are so tired you can’t see straight and someone still wants something from you. Except when resources are limited and guilt keeps you at the end of the line till everyone else has gotten what they need. Except when blame is being handed out and you end up taking more than your fair share, since, after all, you are told, you should have been more available.
And now, as women, while we are taking on more, and accepting a higher level of responsibility at work, we are still being asked to continue to help, rescue, and put the salve on what hurts. So how do we break the pattern and become more rightful leaders in this time of change and transition? How would a leadership development program help us face the weakness of over-giving that has been a part of the nature of women since we lived in caves?
Here are some do’s and don’ts from the WELL Program (Women Executive Leadership Learning) when being the ‘good woman’, the pleaser, the martyr, the rescuer at work is a definite disadvantage to playing the game of work full out:
• Emphasize that, while you care about your employees, your main concern must, and should be about work performance and conduct.
• Have written documentation rather than rely on memory.
• Listen and only interrupt when the answers become ‘poor me’ stories.
• Remember, you can ask for outside help rather than solve all the issues yourself
• Know the ins and outs of HR and EAP possibilities
• Offer to be a liaison between the employee and HR or EAP and stop with that
• Help employees know that without assistance, the problems may escalate and you are not the court of last resort.
• Do say ‘I hear you” rather than ‘I’m sorry’ when you are being clear and direct
• Find something to do to nurture yourself, rather than give in to generational guilt that it was your responsibility to rescue or solve the problem person.
• Attempt to diagnose the problem – state what is going on in honest, clear language.
• Lecture or convince. Keep the discussion in a narrow range of what you can and cannot be counted on to do
• Get caught into telling about how you have solved some similar problems in your own life.
• Fall into the trap of giving sympathy too easily.
• Keep a box of tissues front and center on your desk.
• Make excuses or down play the gravity of the situation because the other person is uncomfortable
• Challenge or make meaningless threats that will not be followed-through
• Offer to talk to other employees and explain the difficulties the person in your office is experiencing.
• Back pedal on what you have said to make it easier on your employee.
Behavior patterns that are deeply embedded in the nervous system are hard to break and yet, when the world has changed and we continue to act in manners similar to our mothers and grandmothers, we are not only doing ourselves a disservice, we are doing a disservice to our business organizations, and even more importantly, to the future generations of young women who are watching and learning best practices from us.
I am not suggesting we respond to difficult situations like men do. They have their own learning in how to stop using competing and beating as the best ways to handle situations. What I am shouting out is that there is a need to change the pleaser into the truth teller, the martyr into an integrator, and the rescuer into a mentor. For too long, most of us as women gave to others in a maximum way and asked for something back in a minimalist fashion.
I believe as we become clearer and more definite in our approaches at work, we can find the balance point between tough love and weak wills. And that will serve us all.