Leaders, by their nature, are in the business of helping others.
Good leaders are always ready with a helping hand. They’re always assisting team members to overcome an obstacle or to learn a new skill. Leaders and help go together like peas and carrots.
But for some leaders, the urge to help can go too far. Leaders who feel best about themselves when coming to the rescue and helping others fix their problems are a different breed.
In small doses, leaders offering assistance is an admirable activity, one highly appreciated by others. But when leaders are always helping others, riding to the rescue, they may be suffering from what psychologists call the “Savior Complex” or “White Knight Syndrome.”
A leader will know they have a problem when their intense need to save, fix, and help others becomes their purpose for being.
Such a need typically arises from the pleasure leaders feel when helping. Fixing the problems others face validates how smart, resourceful, and wise they are. It makes them feel more powerful and better about their own problems, which often go unaddressed.
Over time, leaders who over-help begin to feel superior to others, believing no one else can offer the support they can. They begin to seek out people who need their attention and aid, sometimes preferring weak and underperforming colleagues to those who excel without their guidance.
Leaders who want to “save” people and “save the day” seem like tremendously altruistic people. But in reality, they often attempt to fix a problem they are ill-equipped for or lack the skills to succeed with. They quickly become parental in their leadership, treating others like children who will forever need to rely on them to succeed.
By treating people like projects worthy of fixing, they create a helplessness on the part of others that undermines independence in execution and performance. By riding in on a white horse to save those in distress, these leaders create a dysfunction not easily noticed. Addicted to the feelings of power and self-esteem their help produces for them, they become ever more committed to assisting others in the name of selflessness.
If this sounds like a leader, colleague, or friend you know, they are ill-suited to lead others. In fact, they likely create codependent and dysfunctional personal relationships as well, preferring to rescue people rather than establishing mutually influential connections.
For those who want to help the helper kick the habit, the first step is to point out the White Knight pattern. Show them how they use a parental style of influence to help and fix people.
Next, ask them to watch distress from a distance without lending a hand. Repeat this as often as possible.
Lastly, ask the Knight to refrain from justifying their helpful actions as good intentions. As long as the White Knight defines their actions as only altruistic, they will likely maintain their obsession of helping others.
In the end, the persona of the White Knight must die. Who knew helping could be such a problem?
I have seen this happen almost exactly as you described here. Leader even referred to themselves as “Mama/Papa” (just one - protecting the innocent. Setting personality aside, people like this based on my experience have high interpersonal skills and almost no process/technical skills whatsoever. Their personal productivity habits tend to be chaotic too. A lot of buzzing, but little real forward progress. Thanks for sharing!