June 2010: Over-Protection: Now, It’s a Workplace DiseaseJune 1, 2010
“For one thing, I’m way too nice.”
During a recent coaching session, that curt assessment blurted out from Joanne, vice president for administration at a four-year college.
“What does being way too nice look like?” I asked.
“I don’t know all what it looks like; I just know I’m too nice.”
“Okay, here’s an assignment that might help: Think about how you actually behave with your team, and make a list of specific behaviors that display your over-niceness. Shoot for an exhaustive list.”
She agreed to do this.
Two weeks later, Joanne sent me this email:
Here’s my list of “too nice” behaviors that you requested at our last coaching session. I found it easy (and alarming) to put this down in black and white. It’s in no particular order:
- When someone in another department brings a concern or complaint about one of my staff, I take it personally instead of letting my staff fight their own battles;
- I always say “we” when talking with those who report to me, even when the problem belongs to them. For example, I often say, “How can we fix this?” instead of “How can you fix this?”
- No matter what the issue is, if I can see someone feels bad about it, I focus on soothing their feelings instead of addressing the problem.
- I let people off the hook. When they fail to deliver, I take the problem on myself and usually get it done quicker and better.
- I’m too hung up on everyone being happy, all the time. An example is our annual spring barbecue for staff on the first warm Friday of the year. This year, when the time came to pull things together, everyone was too busy or had plans. I found myself in the store aisles buying food for the barbecue, actually feeling resentful that I was doing all the work.
- I think staff sometimes takes advantage of me. They ask for little favors all the time, like wanting to leave early or telling me they will get to a project next week when it’s been requested this week. They ask me because they know I’ll say yes.
- On most days, I feel pressured and my staff seems more laid back.
I know these behaviors are over the top on my part, and I want to work on changing. Looking forward to discussing next month.
Inside the Coach’s Head
I want to let you inside my head as Joanne’s coach. Here’s what I’m thinking as I prepare for our next session:
I am interested in what Joanne gets from her over-protecting behavior.
I am wondering about Joanne’s family history, and her functional role in her family growing up. How did she pick up the tendency towards care-taking?
I would like to find out if Joanne considers the possibility that her over-protecting might be setting her staff up to fail.
Joanne might see her coddling as unique. I don’t share that view.
She could be many of my clients, even those who claim to have built workplaces of distinction.
Joanne could also be most parents in America, and for that matter, most consultants.
If over-protecting employees and children reveals the leader/parent’s intense need for acceptance and approval, then all caring behavior begs for examination.
Half a century of clinical experience from family therapy’s most respected pioneers claims that shielding others from challenge, adversity and consequences wrecks their self-confidence.
What would it take for us to rein in the unremitting impulse to make life easy for others?
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