White Knight Syndrome: Give Yourself a Break!
As we continue to ride the wave of the pandemic employees are, of course, looking to leaders for direction. If you’re a leader you may have an unsettling feeling about not necessarily having all the answers for your team members. You may well be struggling with your own questions around how to lead most effectively right now. How can we maintain productivity with all the changes constantly being thrown our way? How can we best support our team members? How can we improve engagement and restore a sense of optimism about what lies ahead for us as an organization?
Leaders: take a breath. You don’t have to have all the answers right now. No one does! Many are suffering from what I refer to as “White Knight Syndrome” – a profound need to save the day by making the workplace and the employee experience “perfect” (whatever that is!), without necessarily being realistic about the limits of our control. It’s important to recognize the longer-term impact your worry can have on your own mental wellbeing which directly impacts your longevity with your organization. Since the pandemic began burnout rates among middle and upper management across industries are higher than pre-pandemic numbers, and continue to rise. Shift your focus from “saving” your team members and instead walk next to them. “We’re all in this together” has become a bit of a cliché for a reason. It’s the truth! And it’s definitely a relevant notion for the workplace.
Are you struggling with White Knight Syndrome yourself? Let’s explore a couple of practices for you to consider adopting to shed your armour. Believe me when I say your future self will thank you for putting these measures in place.
“I can’t take my vacation time – things are just too busy right now.” Have you ever forfeited planned time off because work tasks seemed too important and/or time-sensitive, and you felt obligated to prioritize work rather than your personal self care? While this may sometimes seem necessary have you considered the precedent this sets? Remember that your team members will do as you do, not as you say. Leaders must walk their talk to foster a culture where a reasonable balance between work lives and personal lives is a priority. If you tell employees to take their scheduled breaks and communicate all those lovely sounding talking points about the importance of work/life balance, but you’re not practicing what you preach… what message are you sending? Actions really do speak louder than words. The long term impact of continuously misaligning your words and actions can be as significant as distrust developing between you and your team, as people may come to feel they must interpret your meaning rather than taking what you say at face value. Let your team see you taking regular breaks throughout the workday and show them that taking time to decompress is vital and an expectation in your organization.
Now is the perfect time to practice modelling authenticity and vulnerability as a leader. Interacting with your team members in a genuine way – which sometimes means exposing your own vulnerability – is paramount in these tumultuous times. Verbally communicating to employees that you understand things are tough right now is likely to be interpreted very differently than acknowledging that you, too, are struggling. A different dynamic takes shape when leaders bring their authentic selves to the workplace, on good days, bad days and everything in between. It gives employees permission to do the same, and that promotes a sense that the workplace is a safe space.
This week I’m challenging you – yes, YOU! – to reflect on the psychological burden of your leadership role at work. Consider all the different hats you wear in the workplace and in your personal life. Have you been putting undue or unmanageable pressure on yourself? Maybe it’s time to shed your armour.
Have a great week, my friends. See you next time!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.