In your personal life you’ve undoubtedly known a few Florence Nightingale wannabes -- those that can’t seem to stop trying to ‘fix’ those around them who are broken or struggling. You’ve also, no doubt, seen how that usually turns out (hint: It’s generally not happily).

But have you ever considered if this co-dependent dynamic is going on within your business?

That’s the question raised in a recent, interesting article by INSEAD professor Manfred Kets de Vries. Mentoring, he points out, is clearly beneficial to your business. Being a martyr is not. And it can be tricky to know when you’ve crossed the line from one to the other. Kets de Vries explains the distinction:

"Being prepared to help others within the organisation is one of the fundamental roles of a leader. It is of mutual benefit to help colleagues and the urge to do is natural. But the desire to help is not always driven by purely altruistic motives. Some people are motivated less by the desire to benefit others and contribute to the common good and more by a deeper emotional need within themselves.

These people are 'rescuers' for whom the need to help becomes like an addiction."

Take your urge to come to the rescue too far, or start “helping” for egotistical reasons, and you’re likely to burn yourself out and coddle your employees to such a degree that they’re unable to grow. But unlike in your personal life where this sort of behavior is often quickly pointed out by friends or very obviously destructive, what Kets de Vries calls "the rescuer syndrome" is often subtler and harder to recognize at work.

Think you or someone you work with might be a rescuer? The article offers this handy checklist of questions to help evaluate whether the person has crosses into unhealthy territory?

  • Do you find it difficult to make time for yourself?
  • Do you find it hard to stop thinking about other people’s problems?
  • Do your colleagues and co-workers sometimes feel like family members?
  • Are you inclined to make decisions on behalf of someone who has asked for help?
  • Do you offer to help people who appear not to realise they have a problem?
  • Do you feel uncomfortable receiving help from other people?
  • Do you regularly feel exhausted with the effort of helping people?

If you answered yes to too many of these questions, check out the complete article for next steps on how to dial down your need to rescue others and get back to a more healthful approach to mentoring?

Have you run into many rescuers in your professional life?