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  • When Helping Employees Hurts Performance

Recently a very frustrated client of mine complained, “I tried my hardest to help my team. They just don’t get it. I only want them to succeed.”

I knew her pain very well experiencing similar frustrations in my last management position. It wasn’t until I fully experienced the power of coaching that I understood the distinction between serving and fixing others.

We often blur being a leader with being a helper. When you view what you are doing as “helping” someone to do things correctly, you are functioning from a position of greater power. You have information, skills or abilities that the person you are helping does not. It is a position of inequality. You are stronger than the person you are helping who is less capable than you.

The result: unless your employees are convinced they need you to tell them how to do their jobs, they feel disrespected when you push your help on them even when your intentions are good and your regard for them is high.

Yes, your position wields more power naturally. The nature of hierarchy creates a power imbalance that is sometimes good. However, the nature of your relationship human to human is a different dynamic. When most people talk about the best manager they ever had, they usually say, “He made me feel like an equal.” Or “When I left her office, I felt encouraged and special, as if I was capable of doing so much more.”

Even if you know what your employees need to succeed in a particular situation, if they have any knowledge or ideas that can be used to solve the problem, they will not hear you if you just tell them what to do without first considering what they know. Their resentment speaks louder than your wise words. They may even retaliate by doing something other than what you expected. Then you judge them even more harshly. It is a vicious circle where you feel as if you are managing children.

Have you ever complained about having to parent another adult? Maybe you are trying too hard to fix them.

By contrast, service is a relationship between equals. It is mutual. When you are in service as a leader, you collaborate with your employees to find the solution. You honor the wisdom of experience and the insights they have, and then you seek ways to help them articulate the possibilities that are forming in their minds. You ask more than tell. You add to their ideas instead of countering with your own.

When you act in service as a leader, you get commitment as well as new ideas. You also establish better relationships. The connection enhances personal growth and emotional fulfillment for you as well as for your employees.

What will this emotional fulfillment feel like for you? First, you’ll be less impatient. You will also deepen your empathy and compassion. You will find it is okay to open your heart at work.

Quit fixing and start serving by truly believing in the greatness in others and being curious about what they know and think. Learn and practice good coaching skills. Then see how your team performs.

Dr. Rachel Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, writes, “When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life whole.”

Seek to serve by developing the minds of your people instead of fixing their inefficiencies. The shift in intention alone will inspire greater performance.

Dr. Reynolds provides executive coaching and customized training programs in leadership and emotional intelligence. She can be contacted through the The Pyramid Resource Group , a corporate coaching company and creator of Team Advantage , the complete coaching guide for team transformation.

About the Author

Marcia Reynolds

Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, travels the world speaking and teaching classes in advanced coaching skills, leadership and emotional intelligence. She is the author of three books and has been quoted in major online and print publications in the U.S. and Europe. Her new book, "The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs", is scheduled for release in October.

Reynolds was fifth global president of the International Coach Federation and is currently the President Elect of the Association for Coach Training Organizations (ACTO). She is the Training Director for the Healthcare Coaching Institute, a coaching school and division of The Pyramid Resource Group focused teaching leaders in the healthcare industry. She also works with training organizations in Russia and China.

She holds a doctorate in organizational psychology and two masters degrees in communications and education. Her experience includes 16 years in leadership positions in training departments for healthcare and high-tech corporations. You can reach her at marcia@pyramidresource.com.

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