Providing Help or Inflicting Help?

Often, you become a school leader (or leader of any kind) because other people notice that you’re good at solving problems. They promote you because you’ve demonstrated ingenuity. You’re more than happy to accept the role because, at the end of the day, solving problems and demonstrating ingenuity makes you feel good.

And then, inevitably, a more seasoned leader helps you to understand that too much of a good thing can actually tip over into negativity. Over time, in the case we’re considering, if you solve people’s problems for them, you don’t help them to build their own problem-solving muscles. You reduce their agency. You take away opportunities for them to develop.

You can actually end up developing yourself, and your own agency, at some cost to those you were originally asked to lead.

Ed Batista has a long history of coaching leaders, and I turn to his blog often. He’s not afraid — and/or he’s well equipped — to dig into the nuances of leadership. Here, he deepens the basic idea I’ve been exploring both in this blog and in my own practice. He’s asking leaders to be radically honest with themselves. That’s not an easy route, but it’s one that leads to the opportunity to make different choices.

Emotion Regulation

It’s essential to understand and regulate the emotions that underlie our helping impulse. Logical analysis can influence our behavior, but our actions inevitably have an emotional dimension, although at times these feelings may lie just beyond our conscious awareness. Comprehending the emotions that motivate our desire to help can allow us to sense when they’re causing us to inflict help, slow down our reflexive helping responses, and create opportunities to make different choices.

We’re driven to diminish our negative emotions and enhance our positive emotions, and helping relationships can trigger powerful feelings on both sides. When we feel the need to help we perceive a problem that we want to alleviate, and its persistence can trigger discomfort, anxiety, anger, and fear. The task here is to gain a greater sense of comfort with our discomfort, to simply notice these feelings and sit with them without being compelled to take action in order to soothe ourselves.

On the other side of the emotional spectrum, when we feel the need to help we perceive an opportunity to distinguish ourselves while being of service, and this can trigger excitement, enthusiasm, and even joy. The task here is to calm ourselves in the face of these stimulating emotions, to simply notice these feelings and, again, sit with them without being compelled to take action to maintain this pleasurable state.

As colleagues, friends and family members, we’re asked to help in almost every sphere of life. Leaders and those of us in the helping professions may have even chosen our career path because it allows us to respond to such requests on a consistent basis. But being mindful of the difference between providing help and inflicting it is what allows us to truly make a difference.

Source: Ed Batista’s blog.

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