Why Leaders Don’t Fix And Fixers Don’t Lead
During my clinical psychology internship in graduate school, one of my mentors told me, “If you are working harder than your client, something is wrong.”
Leaders, do you ever feel like you are working too hard for your employees and they aren’t taking enough ownership and responsibility for their own performance? If so, you might be a “fix-it” leader and are rescuing your employees instead of leading them.
Rescuing means to help in a way that builds dependence rather than long-term capability and ownership.
“Fix-it” leaders have these habits in common:
- Giving unsolicited advice
- Fixing problems that employees should be taking care of themselves
- Telling employees how to do their job
- Arguing with employees about the reasons to change
- Putting out fires
- Addressing the same issues over and over
“Fix-it” leaders produce predictable results — employees who:
- Make excuses instead of solutions
- Say yes, but don’t follow through
- Say thanks, but secretly resent you
- Lack confidence
- Lack ownership
- Complain about you behind your back
Stop fixing and start leading by developing three key leadership behaviors: Openness, Resourcefulness, and Persistence – and apply them in the following order in every interaction.
Empathy, compassion, and transparency. When employees complain, do you act like you’re listening, or do you really listen and probe for the deeper underlying concerns? Complaints like “we’ve always done it this way” usually mean “I am scared,” or “I don’t know how it will turn out.” Listening for, and validating, these underlying emotions builds trust and connection. Glossing over them will result in continued resistance because employees don’t feel heard.
Don’t ever tell an employee “I know how you are feeling.” They don’t want you to know. They want you to care.
Leave your head and get into your heart. Ask them how they are feeling; then listen. Ask follow-up questions; then listen. Above all, resist the urge to downplay their feelings, make excuses for upper management, or explain to them why they should get over it.
Example: “I am sorry you are having so much difficulty with this new electronic medical record system. I want you to feel good about this and gain benefit from using it.”
Shared problem-solving, innovation, and flexibility. The purpose here is to engage the employee in being a part of the solution. Giving them advice on how YOU would do it doesn’t help unless they ask you and are open to it. On the other extreme, leaving them to fend for themselves doesn’t help because it shows lack of concern. The secret is offering support, being available to provide resources and ideas if they wish, and engaging their input on how to solve the problem or meet the performance goals you desire.
We can’t emphasize this enough. Never give advice unless someone asks you for it.
If you have resources that you know would help, including knowledge and experience, ask their permission before you share it. Then let go. It’s not your job to solve the problem or implement the solution. It’s your job to be resourceful.
Before you were promoted, your success may have depended on how much you knew or how well you fixed a problem. Not any more. As a leader, your success depends on your ability to help others produce results.
Example: “I am here to support you gaining proficiency with this new electronic medical record system. I have a variety of resources at my disposal. If you want help or have any questions or concerns, it’s OK to ask me.”
Accountability, perseverance, boundaries, and adherence to goals. These are the non-negotiables for which you are accountable. You are responsible to be aware of, emphasize, and help people do what is required. You are also responsible to know the difference between what is non-negotiable, and what is flexible.
Persistence is NOT bringing the hammer down or giving ultimatums. It is about clarity and commitment around what matters most while preserving others’ dignity.
Example: “Delaying the due date is not an option. We are committed to be fully transitioned to the new electronic medical record system by December 31st.”
Each of these three skills provides a necessary piece of the leadership puzzle. Openness shows support and empathy. Resourcefulness shows willingness to help problem-solve. Persistence shows courage to move forward with goals and commitments.
Stop fixing and start leading. Watch your employees step up and your frustration go down.