by Paul Casey

Are You an Enabler?

It’s hard to admit, I know. But if you have a low-performing employee or a high-maintenance friend or family member, you know that he/she will gravitate to the path of least resistance and settle into often-negative patterns if not confronted with the destructive consequences of their actions. Feeling no pain for their choices, why not just continue to live life that way, oblivious of the impact/grief left in their wake? Unintentionally, you might be enabling that pattern to continue. Do you:

  1. Find yourself rescuing the person when he/she gets in a jam? The rescuer role is the third side of the Drama Triangle (persecutor and victim being the other two roles). Fixers by nature, rescuers “helicopter in” when tensions rise in order to bring situations back to homeostasis/calm waters. Instead, hit the pause button and let them take the fall, or experience the natural consequences for his/her behaviors. It’s amazing how it takes getting to the end of one’s rope for them to wake up and smell the coffee, to finally see the need for something to change.
  2. Keep giving this person great advice that goes unheeded? There is a proverb about not “throwing your pearls in front of swine”, meaning that you shouldn’t give your best energy to someone unwilling to truly listen and assimilate wisdom into their lives. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not calling them “pigs”; they just aren’t ready yet. When the student is ready, the teacher (you or someone outside of the situation) will appear.
  3. Ignore the person’s misbehavior entirely? Staying blissfully unaware is not a healthy strategy when damage is being done to other people because of this individual. What you tolerate will proliferate. Even though it may seem unlikely that the person will hear you out with a learning mindset, it’s still essential to call them on their stuff (reflecting back to them what they are doing that is unacceptable and the negative impact it’s having on the team/family, and to set a boundary that is enforceable (telling them what you are willing to do and not do if the behavior continues–and sticking to it, when tempted to be drawn into it). The bottom line: you want the person who has the most concern over the behavior to be them, not you! Enablers take too much responsibility for another’s actions–crossing over to their property–instead of re-establishing who owns what stuff and what will happen if that stuff continues to manifest itself to the emotional harm of others.
  4. Validate their excuses? The last thing you want to do is give them yet another “pass” for behaving poorly. Sure, empathy is a necessary quality of all leaders and friends, but there’s a line that gets crossed when it turns into sympathy that may easily slip into enablement. Victims use excuses to continue their course of action (“comfort zone”). Instead, ignore those excuses and reframe them as respectfully as possible with the truth of what healthy, high-performing people/employees do.  The softest approach is to simply share with them what YOU do in similar situations. Then, quickly ask them, “So what are you going to do about it?”

There’s more good stuff where this came from! And a lot of it comes from local Tri-City leaders. Check out my new podcast The Tri-Cities Influencer on Facebook or at for leadership and self-leadership interviews to model yourself after.


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