Are you a fixer? Are you one of the folks who has never met a problem that didn’t make you salivate at the thought of solving it? Do you get a rush from the challenge? Do you get a high from being part of the solution? I get it. It can indeed be very rewarding to solve a problem for someone—and to perhaps be seen the hero. Yep. I know. I’ve been there, too.
Leaders do have a responsibility to solve and be part of the solution to problems. The organization thrives on it and if done well, we can develop followers’ leadership skills in the process. But can being the fixer go too far? Yes! It most certainly can!
What prompted this article was the analytics report I was studying yesterday for this blog. The WordPress platform provides some basic analytics regarding the blogs that it hosts. One part of that report is “Search Terms.” The most common items in the LeadStrategic.com report are the expected:
- …and so on
It’s usually words and short phrases related to leadership. Yesterday, though, a longer phrase appeared on the report: “How to stop being a fixer.”
That caught my eye. I wanted to ask the person who submitted that search some questions:
- What do you mean by “fixer”?
- Are you the fixer in question?
- Why are you asking the question?
- Or are you coaching a fixer follower?
- What’s the problem with this person’s fixer-ness that you are looking for help?
- …And a number of questions about the team and the culture in which this fixer is working.
(If the person who posted that is reading, please follow up with me personally. I would love to dig into this with you!)
So I’m going to address this topic assuming that the term “fixer” refers to a person who throws all his energy at finding or creating the solution to every problem that comes his way.
Once again, let’s not forget that leaders are fixers. That’s part of the job. Taken to an extreme, though, it is an indication of a deeper problem. Let’s call this “extreme fixer syndrome” or EFS.
People with EFS often have the ability to mask this with positive, compensating leadership traits. Specifically:
- They compensate with effectiveness (they solve problems!).
- They compensate with expertise in their professional discipline.
- They compensate with charisma.
So it often takes time to filter out the positive compensating traits to identify a leader with EFS. We affirm and desire those traits above, but a leader who is fixated on being the organization’s chief problem solver likely has two character flaws that will eventually undermine their leadership credibility and effectiveness:
- They have a high sense of self-importance. They enjoy being the hero and being in the limelight.
- They do not have faith or trust in others’ ability to achieve results or grown in their capacity to do so.
In short, people with EFS see themselves as “problem saviors” and at the same time don’t believe others have the potential to solve problems.
This just isn’t reality!
It may seem harsh, but this is often the core of what’s going on. People with EFS see and enjoy seeing themselves as the center of the solution, they don’t recognize others’ ability to contribute, and they don’t want others to steal the attention.
The character issues here are twofold:
- A lack of humility, and
- A lack of grace.
C. S. Lewis said this of humility:
True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.
Humility does not require you to be self-degrading, but the humble person does give great attention to the needs and opportunities of others. The effective problem-solving leader, the leader without EFS, devotes a great deal of energy to looking for alignment between the organization’s problems and the skills and developmental needs of team members. He gives others the opportunity to be at the center of the solution.
There is also strong link between humility and grace. Jesus’ brother James, in his letter to the first century Jewish Christians, wrote that God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Thinking more of others, being humble, generates grace toward others.
The perfect model of grace is God’s grace toward followers of Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that the favor God had shown them “…is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis mine). The favor of being redeemed by God is unmerited and undeserved yet He grants it to His followers anyway.
Extending grace to others is a critical act of leadership. No one gets it right all the time—whether you have EFS or not.
Humility and grace are character qualities that are developed over time. They are not a skill. They are not part of a body of knowledge that can be acquired and mastered. If you suspect you have EFS and want to break out, your first step is to find a leader with true humility and grace. Ask for time to share a cup of coffee.
Share this article with that leader. Ask for honest feedback. Ask for the opportunity to have open and honest accountability.
The first step to greater humility in leadership is to be open to honest assessments of your leadership character and the second step is partnering with a leader who will hold you accountable to growth. As you develop humility, grace toward others will grow and your EFS will subside.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.