Savior Complex: Tips to Shift from a Doer to a Strategic Partner

The other morning one of my group members asked for help shifting from a doer to a strategic partner.

This question comes up quite often, actually, and I think it’s because we worked so hard as individual contributors to prove we could do it all; we had no one to delegate to, so we were it. However, many women realize that sustaining their pace as a doer when they become a leader is nearly impossible. Additionally, most astutely realize that they need to be seen as more than a doer to keep rising.

As background to her question, my client shared that she has a reputation as the person who can get anything done and fix any problem. While she worked hard to earn this title and she was proud of it, she realized that it wasn’t serving her as she was burning the candle at both ends. Additionally, she had staff who were underutilized. Here are the ideas that were shared with her about how to shift to a strategic partner.

Let go of the Savior complex

When I opened the floor for discussion, one member of the group said, “you and I share a Savior complex, which is what I call what you have described.” She then shared that the most critical first step here is to change your mindset from thinking that you’re the only one who can fix the problem or get something done. Until your mind changes, you won’t be able to open your hands and allow others to do the work for you.

Make a succession plan

One member in the group noted that continuing to hold the Savior complex was preventing others from making meaningful contributions and was likely undermining their ability to feel valued. My client admitted that at least one of her employees who lived on the west coast didn’t like that my east coast client would resolve things in the morning before her employee even had a chance to do so. By coming up with a plan of who would be responsible for different things, my client would build a deeper bench and shift the work from her plate to others.

Set expectations

My client expressed concern that her staff would likely make mistakes when she gave them things to do. In order to prepare her boss and peers for the growing pains, one member suggested my client let her colleagues know that she would be shifting responsibilities around to allow others to learn and grow. She would monitor the errors and step in when absolutely necessary.

Train, support, coach

One member suggested that my client could feel like an active participant in the process by developing a plan to train her staff and then moving into a support and coach role. This would also help her feel more comfortable turning things over to her staff.

Inspect what you expect

I had not heard this phrase before; however, it is akin to trust and verify. My client was encouraged to establish a review process or feedback loop so she could ensure things were being handled as she expected.

Turn off email alerts

One member shared that when you respond to every email alert, you are more apt to respond immediately and not allow others to find the solution for themselves. By scheduling a time to check email, instead of when the alert went off, my client would be less likely to jump in and rescue someone who didn’t need rescuing.

Do it, delegate it, or ditch it

One member shared the three d’s – do, delegate or ditch. With this concept, my client had to determine the instant she touched something that she could only pick one of these three options. Of course, her time is limited and she couldn’t do everything immediately nor could she ditch important things, so she would have to default to delegating. By laying the groundwork above, she would be in the best place to pick delegate consistently.

Work with me

I love helping women become stronger leaders and the Savior complex is one that holds many women back. If you identify as the Savior in your workplace and want help becoming a strategic partner, click here and schedule a time to talk.

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