Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Temptation to Over-Perform

As a church leader, the hardest task that I face repeatedly is resisting the temptation to over-perform. My husband, Herb, tells it like this: "Once, millennia ago, there were two types of people: those who liked to give advice and those who liked to take advice. Over thousands of years, eventually all the people who liked to take advice died off, and today the people who remain are those who like to give advice."

I am often in situations where people earnestly ask my advice, which I give freely. Sometimes we are in face-to-face conversation. More typically, we are in e-mail dialogue. Advice is a like a gift. Once you've given the advice, like a gift, you don't get to take it back, and you don't get to kibbitz about how best or better to use the advice. If the recipient of your advice chooses not to use the advice, or to misuse it, you don't get a further say in maintaining the integrity of your advice. You gave it, and it's gone . . . even if it makes you want to scream, because you really do think that you know better.

I actually have learned in my consulting work and experience as a volunteer leader to be gracious about relinquishing control and ownership of the adivce I've given. One of the lessons learned is how to distinguish between other people's right to make choices and my egoistic equating of my advice (my wisdom) for my sense of self. It was a lot more difficult to step back from the precipice of temptation when I was a manager and as a parent. The roles of manager and parent encompass an overall responsbility for the welfare of your staff and children that hook you, probably beyond the optimal line between providing advice and interference. Responsibility can be addictive with its potential rewards of self-importance and other people's gratitude.

How can you distinguish advice from interference? When do you cross the line, and how can you back track? A quick distinction might be: Advice is comprised of information, instruction, anecdote and possibilities. Interference occurs when you also supply analysis, interpretation and laying out choices. Advice is about being a reference and resource while interference engages the heavy lifting that should be done by the individual herself/himself. Ultimately, avoiding the temptation to over-perform is about being a well-defined person with good boundary control. Easier said than done.

1 comment:

Deborah Sampson said...

Oh, can I appreciate you comments! I'm something of a fixer, myself. I don't just give advice, I try to fix the situation! This remnant of my childhood in an addictive household is truly hard to give up. Gradually, I'm coming to see advice as a gift I give, the consequences of which I cannot control!