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Are you a rescuer or a delegator?

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“I think you are a rescuer,” a chum said to me yesterday. He wasn’t referring to any of my noble part time activities, but my business style. He is a workplace psychologist.

The cynic in me would say that this is all American mumbo jumbo. We all seem to be terribly reactionary on the HR front, going from irrefutable ordering to a place where we have to shilly-shally around asking, “would you mind awfully helping out please?” The degree of PC in our relations with employees is now a minefield.

That said, I have always found psychology fascinating and my friend appears to speak a lot of sense, so I asked him to explain further. 

He explained that bosses – and indeed managers – apparently fall into two main categories: rescuers and true delegators.

The distinctions lie deep, and influence your recruiting choices as well as your management style. The extreme rescuer will fall for a sob story (true or not) and won’t always employ a clear and logical brain. 

But the difference continues when the workload becomes heavy or the employee makes errors. The rescuer will bounce in and say “not to worry, I will sort that out for you, poor old you”. The good delegator will ask “what are we going to do about this?” 

Note, they don’t say, “what are you going to do about it?”; that would leave the struggling employee out in the cold and with no comfortable place to think for themselves. As a manager, you know what you would do about it anyway, so putting yourself into the equation in the planning stage costs nothing. 

The problem with the rescuer is that they create a culture of needy people. The majority of us won’t bother to do things after a while if we know someone else will step in and do it for us. I would go further and say that, in my experience, there are also groups of people who are highly-skilled manipulators, extremely skilled at playing the “help me” game to offload their responsibilities. A team led by a rescuer, therefore, continues to get lazier and lazier. They continue to offload their responsibilities both to themselves and other team members. 

For those of us that are rescuers, it’s a highly attractive place to be. It makes us feel good: we feel needed. For a long time, our staff thank us effusively for our help and kindness. The job gets done and we feel great. Yet as time ticks by, the staff perform less and less, we struggle more and become overtired and vaguely resentful. The staff then gradually comes to despise us.

Sadly, I recognize it too well. I have indeed been a rescuer for most of my career. I’ve been learning these lessons the hard way, for the past couple of years and have been trying to change my style. I hope I will. Not only will I be happier and healthier, but my team will perform better.

Mumbo jumbo psychology? Unfortunately not. 

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