Recently, a very frustrated client complained, "I tried my hardest to help my team. They just don't get it. I only want them to succeed."
I know her frustration very well as a painful lesson I had to learn. It wasn't until I fully experienced the power of coaching that I understood the distinction between serving and fixing those we live and work with.
Helping people can actually serve to stunt their development. Not only do you take away their ability to think for themselves, when your goal is to help people do things "the correct way," you are functioning from a position of greater power. You are stronger than the person you are helping who has lesser capability, knowledge and strength.
Others sense this unequal relationship. If they came to you as unequal--that you are the one with the knowledge in this situation--they may eagerly listen and do what you suggest. This relationship can work when people are starting new ventures and clearly lack skills, experience and knowledge. They want your help. Hopefully you are right when you claim you are so you don't lose their trust.
On the other hand, if the people you are trying to help do not see you as the great one with all the knowledge, they won't hear you. Their resentment speaks louder than your words. They may even retaliate by doing something stupid or nothing at all. Then you judge them even more harshly. Have you ever complained about having to parent another adult? Maybe you are trying too hard to fix them.
In contrast to helping, being of service is a relationship between equals. It is mutual. Serving is responding to a problem and collaborating with others to find the solution. You honor the perspective and knowledge of the people you are serving and then seek to open their eyes to new possibilities and ideas. You give information they are lacking and ask questions to make them think more fully about the situation. You explore possible consequences of their ideas. When they come up with plans for action, you ask them what particular support they need from you to be successful.
Not only will you establish a better relationship with those you serve, you will also benefit from taking this stance. Serving definitely feels different from fixing. For one, you'll feel more tolerant when you aren't expecting people to do what you say. You'll feel more compassion when you hear what the person is grappling with in their mind. You'll enjoy the relationship better as you build mutual respect.
Quit fixing and start believing in others. Be curious to see what they know before you offer your advice. Determine if their ideas have value and they need more courage than direction. They may know the right answer but are afraid to take the next step. Share stories about times you faced similar situations and how you learned from your mistakes. You can give them the benefit of your experiences but you can't give them experience. They need their own experiences and lessons to develop.
The next time you think a team or person needs to be fixed, ask yourself how you can best be of service. This might help your personal relationships, too. You can't fix your friends or your spouse.
Dr. Rachel Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, writes, "Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. When you help you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life whole."
Seek to serve instead of fix. Life isn't about your great accomplishments. It's about being a significant member of a greater community where we are all standing side-by-side doing our best to thrive.
Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, and author of Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction, coaches top talent women and teaches classes worldwide on emotional intelligence and leadership. You can read more about Dr. Reynolds at www.outsmartyourbrain.com