Combating the ‘disease to please’ for better boundaries – 7 minute read

by | Sep 26, 2021

This is a tricky one. As leaders, we want good staff who are team players rather than mavericks. A team player who enjoys being of service is an absolute asset. However, if they have the ‘disease to please’ and are terrible with boundaries, this can lead to burnout and resentment. If we don’t learn how to properly support team members to have sustainable work schedules, it can lead to a revolving door of staff which is a major challenge for any organisation.

As a leader, it’s useful to learn more about this disease to please, not only to help you look after your team better but also to help you mitigate its impact on your business and your own quality of life.

We are all in the business of service – but within reason!

The disease to please can be an aspect of our personality that can drive our success but if left unchecked, it can run us into the ground. As a leader, business owner or executive, you can have numerous cohorts to try to keep happy (please), and this is an important aspect of your role. Personally, I work to please and satisfy the needs of as many people as I possibly can, from clients and potential clients, to service providers, to the companies who engage me etc. It has served me well in my career and in business, and I have derived a lot of joy and a sense of purpose from ‘pleasing’ as ‘being of service’ is high on my personal values list.

Ironically, trying to please everyone may not actually be what serves them best. As the saying goes; ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’

I’ve come to realise there are different levels of service and through developing my skills as a professional coach over the years, I’m sure I serve my clients better today than I did ten years ago, by modelling healthier boundaries and teaching them and their team members to fish rather than volunteering to do all the work for them. Full disclosure, I still do the latter from time to time so the disease to please is something I have to watch like a hawk and recommit regularly to changing this habit. We teach what we most need to learn, right?

I thoroughly enjoy watching my coaching clients become better leaders by pushing back more, delegating well, creating clarity, improving systems and setting healthier boundaries around their teams and organisations.

In my experience, ‘pleasing’ and ‘being of service’ has to be balanced with rest, recovery and self-care. If we are giving to everyone else, all the time, that’s where we run into trouble, and I have seen too many clients, colleagues, family members and friends go to the extreme with this and become exhausted, burnt out and worse still, become seriously ill as a result.

If you don’t want the disease to please lead to an actual disease, then please, read on…

Managing the ‘yes’ reflex

Changing this ‘disease to please’ habit requires awareness and practise. We need to learn how to manage our schedule better and to stop the immediate, knee jerk reaction of saying ‘yes’ when we get a request. Phrases like, ‘Let me check my schedule and I will let you know when I can fit that in’ and ‘Let me check who is the best person to help you with that’, have been a couple of new phrases that have helped me and my clients become less of an ‘answer factory’ and change the habit of you being the ‘go to guru’ all the time.

If you’re a pleaser – changing your ways will be an adjustment!

You may also need to get prepared to face some reactivity to this change. You can pre-empt and prevent some of the discomfort by setting up your new way of being and working by having a team meeting for example. Letting the team know who you have designated as their go to people instead of you and setting clear boundaries on when they come to you (only at certain times of the day or week or when they have exhausted other options for example). Important to always have suggestions for who they can contact instead so they don’t feel abandoned and unsupported.

In truth, there will be moments of discomfort that you may need to allow. You may find yourself having a cringe moment or two as it’s so counterintuitive to a ‘pleaser’ to push back and many of us hate conflict, even if we are feeling most of it internally.

Back yourself – fighting this disease is worth it.

Another discomfort you may feel is in relation to backing yourself. Great leaders stand strong on their own in moments of conviction and it can be lonely at the top at times. So is it really worth it to follow your vision and create a better work/life balance? For every leader I have worked with over the years and from my own experience, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes, absolutely.’

In fighting the ‘disease to please’ you may end up rocking a few boats – but how else is your ship to reach its destination?

For leadership coaching and team training to set up a healthier workplace culture and better boundaries, please choose your preferred program or book in for a FREE 20 minute Zoom or phone consultation to find out more about how I can help you.

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