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Three Ways to Escape the Rescuer Trap

Dysfunctional leaders play one of three relationship roles, persecutor, rescuer, or victim. “The victim feels helpless, the rescuer has the answer, and the persecutor tells you whose fault it is,” Marlene Chism in, Stop Workplace Drama.

Depending on the situation, you could assume any role but you usually identify with one. Leaders frequently assume the role of dysfunctional rescuer.

10 marks of rescuers:

  1. Provide quick fixes.
  2. Take ownership of things they don’t own.
  3. Feel caught in the middle.
  4. Drained from resentment.
  5. Hide the truth to protect people.
  6. Like to control the show.
  7. Difficulty watching less competent people learn new skills.
  8. Obsess about other people’s problems.
  9. Get angry when others don’t take their advice.
  10. Difficulty saying no.

For the record, I’m a persecutor not a rescuer. Although, like rescuers, I am a control freak. But, I’ve seen many rescuer-leaders. As a persecutor, I feel sorry for rescuers but that’s another story.

Three suggestions:

  1. Identify the intended outcome and why you think things can’t be completed without you.
  2. Stop taking responsibility for others and take responsibility for you.
  3. View others as capable and when necessary let them suffer and learn.

Two principles:

  1. Trust yourself enough to speak the truth as you see it.
  2. Trust others enough that they can deal with it.

The kicker:

If you can’t employ the two principles, “you don’t have real relationships anyway,” Chism.

I thought “Stop Workplace Drama,” was an organizational book but it isn’t. It’s a personal development book that helps leaders identify and move toward their desired future. The Drama Triangle is a transactional analysis tool developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman. Marlene applied it to leadership and work.

What are the pros and cons of leaders as rescuers?

What’s the difference between enabling and rescuing?


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