Playing the Hero: When the Helper Helps Too Much

Lisa Brown Jordan

Let’s face it. If you are in the field of career or workforce development, it is most likely due to your intrinsic desire to help. Your role? To empower your clients!

Unfortunately, especially during challenging times (like we’re in right now!), what may happen is that you do more for the client than they do for themselves. We refer to this as playing the “hero.” While this might feel helpful, in reality you may be depriving the client of an opportunity to learn, experience the satisfaction of accomplishment, and even grow from their mistakes. Finding a balance is key!

It’s important to recognize the warning signs that you may be unknowingly wearing the hero’s cape. Let’s take a look at the top five signs and what you can do about it.

  1. You take work home. When discussions about work begin to dominate your personal interactions or you begin to lose sleep due to concerns for your client, you may be playing the “hero.” A good way to end the workday is to write down all the tasks or items you need to address the next day. This will give a “home” for your thoughts about what’s next until you can pick back up the next day. I remember early in my career walking back out my front door to leave my imaginary baggage outside the front door! The symbolic act helped me to leave work at work.
  2. You share personal information. While finding commonalities and building trust with a client are key in the helping relationship, sharing too much personal information may lead to professional boundary crossing. It also changes the dynamics of your relationship. If sharing is in question, reflect on your motivation for disclosing. Are you identifying too closely with the client’s situation? Will the disclosure benefit or harm the client or your professional relationship? If you are unsure, err on the side of caution or consult with your supervisor.
  3. Client relies on you to make decisions. It is one thing to give advice about the services you are providing. However, assisting clients in decision-making outside of your skillset, may prove detrimental. Be sure to keep your advice focused and on target to avoid fostering dependence.
  4. You’re the only one who can help. If there ever comes a time where you feel you are the only one who can help a client or you take over the role of other team members, it’s time to take off your cape! This behavior may lead to feelings of distrust amongst team members and potentially cause splitting. It may also cause dependence on you by the client, leading to boundary crossing. The best advice is to ‘stay in your lane.’ If you find yourself deviating, work to determine the root cause for your behavior and find a solution.
  5. You are always ‘on.’ While being present and in the moment are important for building rapport, taking a balanced approach to service delivery will help avoid job burnout. We work in a very demanding field mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s important to recharge during the day by taking short breaks, eating lunch away from your desk, and finding an outlet outside of work that helps with relaxation or stress relief. You cannot be of service to others if you are not of service to yourself!

It’s natural, especially when you are first starting out or when you see a client struggling, to want to do more, or in some cases, do it all. You can avoid playing the hero by empowering your clients, pointing them in the right direction, nurturing their attitude, and, if needed, giving encouragement. This will go a long way toward their self-reliance. Remember. Everyone is capable of solutions. Do not assume your clients are any different. You got this!

Learn more about
Professional Boundaries Training here.

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash