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The Helper Trait: Navigating the Challenges and Strengths of Emotionally Driven Leadership
Mature Helpers are masters of emotional leadership. They fit the mold of the servant leader perfectly. Such leaders are more interested in others’ success than their own. When they derail, however, their positivity toward others may become their weakness.
“Real strength has to do with helping others.” – Fred Rogers.
Intelligent leaders serve others. Their role in an organization is not to boss others around but to provide guidance, emotional leadership, and assistance, and help their peers and employees live up to their potential.
Some people like to help. Others help but expect something in return. Still others are calculated helpers. They look to “buy” the respect, admiration, and assistance of others through the help they offer. This taxonomy of helpers describes well the range of Helper leader types based on their leadership maturity.
Help isn’t always free or benevolent.
Helper leaders have strong feelings for others. They know they can make a difference by helping others. And often, they go out of their way to do so. Under ideal circumstances, when coupled with adequate leadership maturity, these strong feelings are Helper leaders’ strengths. Sometimes, however, they may blur objectivity and turn into weaknesses.
Helpers may find themselves flooding others with positive feelings and disregarding negative feelings even when these are justified. Moreover, they are ready to overlook the reasons behind their possible negative feelings, even if they are valid. Emotional leadership is natural for Helpers but may not always be benefit.
Helpers find it easy to tune into the feelings of others. From the perspective of leadership coaching, working with such leaders is pleasant, easy, and productive due to their naturally sharp emotional intelligence and self-awareness.
Understanding the Helper Trait
Their strong feelings for others define Helpers’ identities. Their self-awareness helps them see themselves as caring and generous. And they find it natural to define their identities around these values. As long as their generosity is unselfish, Helpers fit the mold of mature and highly effective servant leaders. Those who derail, however, begin expecting reciprocation of the caring and help they offer.
No longer unselfish, derailing Helpers use their leadership proclivities as bargaining chips. They deliver help and then silently await the other party to reciprocate. When others fail to return the favor, immature Helpers feel slighted and may develop resentment.
Leadership coaching can help such leaders achieve a higher level of maturity and correct their derailing tendencies.
The Journey of the Helper: from Derailing to Mature
Immature Helpers may be willing to serve but do so for selfish reasons. They are ready to make others feel guilty for not reciprocating their help and won’t think twice about complaining. An immature Helper may be entitled and prone to feeling victimized.
Executive coaching can help these leaders come to grips with their aggressive feelings. Immature Helpers may acquire greater maturity without assistance, but executive coaching can certainly help hasten the transition.
As they evolve toward maturity, immature Helpers may still focus more on their feelings than the feelings of others. Middle-of-the-road helpers tend to interfere and meddle while demonstrating their emotions. They flatter others and try to control those whom they award with their attention.
Mature Helpers are calmer and ready to share their feelings on a neutral footing. They handle conflict well. From a business coaching perspective, they embody productive emotional leadership. They often assume a coaching mindset and contribute to organizational cultures focused on coaching.
Are You a Helper?
How do you recognize the Helper trait in yourself? As a business coaching professional, I have developed tools to help you establish a baseline for your leadership skills. These tools can also help you recognize your leadership traits and proclivities.
Here are some signs you can recognize without training or using specialized tools.
Signs of a Mature Helper
Mature Helpers are effective coaches. They value coaching cultures and are keen to encourage support from others. Mature Helpers are also:
- Good managers of conflict.
- Relatable and eager to build close relationships with their followers and peers.
- Unselfish and generous.
- Unafraid to share their feelings.
- Supportive, calm, and reassuring.
Mature Helpers are genuinely invested in your success.
Signs of a Middle-of-the-road Helper
Middle-of-the-road Helpers are less skilled at emotional leadership. You may be such a leader if you discover the following traits in yourself:
- Talking about care, generosity, and help but lagging with execution.
- Expecting something in return for your help.
- Feeling a burning need to know about everything.
- Enjoying the position of advisor.
- Demonstrating emotions.
- Exercising control over those you help.
Signs of an Immature Helper
Immature Helpers tend to derail easier. Such leaders are:
- Resentful and likely to complain.
- Prone to manipulating people by making them feel guilty.
- Likely to feel victimized and used by those they helped.
- Ready to undermine the efforts of others.
- Likely to use friendly gestures to forward personal agendas.
The Path to Greater Maturity for Helper Leaders
Few leaders are pure representatives of their dominant leadership style. And even those who happen to be pure Helpers can acquire other leadership traits. From a leadership coaching perspective, to advance toward greater maturity, Helpers must look to acquire the traits and ways of mature Artists. By following this development path, mature Helpers can overcome the issue of conditional respect. That will enable them to accept others unconditionally for who they are while remaining aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those with whom they interact.
The Helper Leadership Style
The basic motivation of Helpers is the admiration and respect of others. Mature Helpers can secure admiration and respect due to who they are. Immature Helpers feel the need to “fake it.”
Mature Helpers support others without expecting anything in return. They are calm, measured, and great at coaching. Helpers seek inclusion and focus on building deep, lasting relationships at the workplace. They are open, ready to communicate their emotions, and can respect others unconditionally.
Genuine Helpers love to celebrate others.
In addition to being good at coaching, Helpers are also good active listeners. In exchange, they expect others to listen as well as they do.
How to Strengthen the Helper Trait
Mature Helpers are outstanding servant leaders. It stands to reason that they should work toward strengthening their leadership style. To become more effective as mature Helpers, leaders should shed the doubts and inhibitions they may have about how others react to their support.
What they do can stand on its own. And once they understand that, they lose the need to “force” respect and admiration. Mature Helpers:
- No longer need to call attention to themselves.
- Are aware of the games of conditional respect they may feel tempted to play and curb such activities.
- Foster their existing relationships while cultivating new ones.
- Are content to work behind the scenes.
- See the success of others as their ultimate reward.
- Let go of their possessive and controlling tendencies.
- Are always keen to know what others need and how they can help.
How to Work with Predominant Helpers
Executive coaching professionals can separate people’s reactions to them from their reactions to people. They are aware of their feelings and can see through their biases to identify Helpers. Those who recognize Helper leaders can engage them through genuine interest in them as people and leaders.
Helpers respond well to interest and support. They are often more interested in other people’s goals than their own. Those who coach and support them must make an extra effort to redirect their focus and set goals for themselves.
Helpers don’t like conflict. They may agree on personal goals to avoid pressure but then neglect them out of a lack of interest. Coaches who work with them must, therefore, monitor their attitudes toward personal goals.
It takes patience to interact with and coach Helpers. They are often reluctant to share their negative feelings, focusing solely on the positives.
Emotional leadership is natural to mature Helpers. By recognizing and nurturing this leadership style, coaches support servant leadership, the essence of the modern paradigm of intelligent leadership.
When they embrace their strengths and shed their weaknesses, Helpers are genuinely productive modern leaders who value cooperation and build great coaching cultures in their organizations.