On a recent coaching call, a client expressed concern about a colleague’s consistent requests for help. She admitted feeling frustrated by her colleague’s neediness and overwhelmed by the thought of adding more responsibility to an already full plate. Sound familiar?

As leaders, most of us are team players and nurturers by nature. If someone needs help, we feel it’s our duty to give it. We’re also present to “the buck stops with us” mentality, which can lead us to jump in and pick up the slack to ensure things run smoothly.

While that may seem like the smart move in the moment, it can lead to the frustration my client described. It can also be counterproductive. Oftentimes we’re simply unable to give our full attention and best efforts to everything equally. That can leave us depleted, and as a result, our existing work and the work we’ve now added to our plate suffers. It also lets the other person off the hook – when we jump in and help, we deprive them of the opportunity to rise to the challenge.

So why does this happen so often?

I’ve written in other places about the system dynamics that are at play that pull us into helper/helpless patterns.  Today I want to examine the internal individual motivations that contribute, as well, and what do to about them.

What my client and I uncovered was that when she felt the pull to jump in and help, there was an ego-stroking pleasure in being able to be THE HERO.  We hummed the Mighty Mouse tune together when we discovered this piece – “Here I am to save the day!”  So rewarding! THE HERO is that little part of us that wants to swoop in and save the day.

Unfortunately, when THE HERO takes over, we end up ignoring the ways that this does not serve us in the long-term. When we focus on doing too much jumping in and firefighting, we miss the bigger picture and lose our focus on key strategic long-term opportunities. We miss the opportunity to develop the other person.  We miss the career costs, in favor of feeling good in the moment.

So, what’s the solution? Sometimes what’s best is to simply say NO. My client admitted feeling like she couldn’t say NO, but was that true or just her interpretation?

While it can have a negative connotation, saying NO to additional requests is actually saying YES to the ones you’ve already committed to. When we reframe it like that and let go of any conditioned concerns, it takes on a whole new meaning.

What happens when you politely decline a request is that the person on the other end learns to swim on their own. Letting them run with it helps them grow those muscles of autonomy. It also frees you up to focus wholeheartedly on what’s already on your plate.

It won’t always make sense to say NO. It’s all about assessing, prioritizing, and weighing the cost versus benefit.

Taking new action:

Start to notice that Mighty Mouse HERO tendency as it comes up. There’s nothing wrong, it’s simply an opportunity to pause and evaluate.

Consider yourself: In my own role/world, does it make sense for me to take this on? Is my help really necessary here? Is it a good use of my time and energy?

Consider your relationship with your colleague: Does it make sense for me to step in or does it work better to have them be autonomous and build their own skills and experience? Is there a middle ground where I can support them without taking over?

Consider the bigger picture:
What will more effectively move the company forward? Taking it on directly or deferring it back to your colleague?

Cultivate awareness and practice:
Be really clear about your own priorities and what’s will move needle for you. Use that as a barometer to saying YES or NO.

Own your choice:
You don’t have to feel bad about saying NO when you get that it’s actually benefiting everyone in the long run.

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