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“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

Edith Wharton, a novelist

Many people confuse leading people with managing people and caring for or loving people with worry or concern for them. When we worry about another person, we fear they might lack the ability to cope or overcome something and we communicate this verbally and non-verbally. When we worry, common reactions are to offer advice, coaxing, exemption and rescue. These are actually more worrisome than any other way you could interact with them.


When you do any of these, you inadvertently send the signal, “You can’t” and “I don’t have faith in you. I must overcompensate for your inadequacies.” While this can be an understandable reaction, and confusing when you know people DO need support at times, it is nonetheless one of the most harmful things you can do to another person. When you lose faith in them, they lose faith in themselves. In the work of LifeWork Systems falling into this reaction indicates you have unwittingly veered into pampering and spoiling someone.


Pampering and spoiling is whenever you do for others what they can do for themselves; when you tell them things they already know and when you care more about their problems than they appear to care. It’s also when you hover, fret, micro-manage, remind, wring your hands and do most of the talking. A person may be temporarily stuck in a difficult challenge and may even plead for help in conscious or unconscious ways, but rescuing and enabling them is never the answer. What you rescue, you make weak.


The way to help a person like this is to say less and ask more. This can be challenging and only comes from self-awareness and self-managing because you are aware of the social dynamics and seek to manage them helpfully. This is the best way you can show faith in another while supporting them with Socratic questions. Before you can ask them though, you first must prevent yourself from falling into the trap of pampering and spoiling. You do this by recognizing your worry or pity or concern and a knee-jerk reaction to do and say more.


When you jump in with concern, the other person will become more fragile, incompetent, irresponsible and childlike. They become less responsible. That’s because the more you pick up responsibility for them, the more they put it down even when it’s theirs to manage. This likely causes you to believe even more strongly in their incompetence and your need to rescue them. It’s a vicious cycle! When you say less and ask more, you are not ignoring another person’s plight. You are reminding them you have faith in them. The questions you ask are things like, “What are your ideas for resolving this?” Or, “What is one first step you can do?” Then wait quietly even when the person says “I don’t know” or stays quiet. Calmly say, “I’ll wait” and then do so.


When a person elicits your concern, you can be sure they have been embracing what’s referred to as learned inadequacy. The remedy for this is remembering that he or she IS capable. Next, you briefly state their obvious challenge (without solutions), and quickly ask questions that allows them to consider their options and what they will do. In this way, you transfer responsibility to them without neglecting them, nor rescuing, exempting, coaxing or enabling them. You listen for evidence this person has picked up responsibility and has chosen a step in which they he or she have a high likelihood of succeeding. In this way, you strengthen one who has lost faith in their own inner wisdom. By remembering it for them, you help them take the next step.


Why People Hire Judy Ryan and LifeWork Systems

Business owners, community leaders, and educators hire Lifework Systems because they want the advantages of an extraordinary workplace and recognize a systems approach ensures consistency and sustainability in the transformation process. They know that conscientious employees grow your business and improve your reputation, giving you competitive advantages. We help organizations instill into every person a common language and toolset for how to participate in a responsibility-based Teal workplace. Visit our website at www.lifeworksystems.com, and click the link at the bottom to complete a culture assessment and schedule your first consult to review a report on your feedback, all at no cost.  You can also contact Judy Ryan at 314.239.4727 or at judy@lifeworksystems.com.

This article will be published in St. Louis Small Business Monthly in Judy’s column on The Extraordinary Workplace, November 2020.