“Why do you expect less from your employees than you do of yourself?” said my manager to me early in my career. I don’t remember the specific situation, but I was probably providing an excuse (thinking it was a valid reason) why one of my employees wasn’t performing up to par. “You’re not doing them any favors,” he added. As I continued my career, I encountered many managers who felt they were being good managers by rescuing their employees or attempting to save them. Most of us “rescue” others (employees, children, friends) because we want to help, and, if we’re honest, it can be a good feeling to swoop in and save the day.

What did my manager mean when he said, “You’re not doing them any favors.” When we step in to rescue someone, we’re basically telling them that they are powerless and without our help, they will fail. It can feel good to save others but we’re making them dependent on us. So, what’s the alternative when we truly want to help others while also empowering them to take care of themselves? We switch our mindset from rescuing to coaching.

The difference between a rescuer and a coach:

    • A Rescuer is attached to outcomes and sees it as his responsibility to fix the Victim.
    • A Rescuer sees the individual needing help as a “Victim” rather than a capable, competent “Creator” of their ideal outcomes.
    • A Coach is not attached to any particular outcome. Rather, the Coach serves and supports a Creator in manifesting his or her desired outcomes.
    • A Rescuer receives validation from rescuing others. While it may feel good, rescuers also can get resentful when others aren’t grateful enough or begin to expect their rescuer to always be there.
    • A Coach sees others as resourceful and resilient. A Coach uses the art of inquiry, curiosity, and deep listening to help others discover what is best for themselves.

One of the most powerful and helpful ways to shift from Rescuer to Coach is to ask the other person what it is that she wants.

When you’re tempted to rescue someone:

  • Remember, you’re doing them a favor to view them as a resilient, resourceful person who can probably do the task themselves.
  • Instead of offering them a solution, ask them questions, such as:
    • What do you want?
    • What is working that you can build upon?”
    • What is yours to do in this situation?”
    • What have you tried?
    • What would the ideal solution look like?
    • What needs to happen to change this?
    • What baby steps can you take?
  • Stay quiet while they think.
  • Offer acknowledgment and encouragement that they can complete the task.

Coaching may initially take more time than rescuing, However, rescuing yields little of value except possibly a quick fix and temporary relief. Coaching takes a bit longer but the returns to you and the person you are coaching are rich, lasting, and sometimes even life-changing.


If you’d like to learn more about this dynamic, a good book is The Power of Ted.