I don’t mean in the romantic sense, riding in on your Harley (or any other modern day horse) to save the damsel in distress.
Are you a White Knight In the workplace? (The syndrome is similar!)
You know, the person that constantly stays late to make sure everything gets done. Or the person that gets put up on a pedestal because they are working so hard (and never have any personal time)? Or the person that single handedly figures out all the problems in the office!
It can be difficult to recognize when we’re being a white knight because it's disguised so well. Most often, we don’t even know we’re doing it! We believe we are giving so much of ourselves and doing the right thing! We swoop in to save the day, or the person - because we have this unfulfilled need. Is it a need for recognition? Is it our over-inflated ego that is driving this? Is it a lack of confidence?
A few months ago I was asked to coach a manager on her interpersonal communication skills. She was a real go-getter and had high potential to move onto the executive team. After doing a Leadership 360feedback assessment, it was a bit surprising to her manager that some of her ratings from direct reports and peers were so low. They all seemed to be around interpersonal skills.
After Susan and I had a good talk, it was obvious it was a case of White Knight syndrome. (Of course I knew this from both personal and professional experience! You can read my personal story in chapter 5 of Leading With GRIT.)
Susan’s intentions seemed to be in the right place. She wanted everything to get done perfectly and quickly, and she worked extremely hard herself. The problem was she didn’t realize how she was coming across to others (except her boss - he had her up on that pedestal, reinforcing the behavior!). Her direct reports and her peers saw her as someone who wanted to be recognized and applauded for all her hard work, not giving them an opportunity to contribute, collaborate, learn and grow.
The deeper problem was, Susan really didn’t realize what she was doing and what was driving her actions.
Susan had a pretty big awareness right away. All that hard work, staying late, taking work home, stressing out, not getting enough sleep and even the impact it had on her family - she was creating it all herself.
After some more self reflection and conversation, Susan discovered that her ego needed it - it made her feel worthy. Specifically she said “I think it makes me feel special, needed, maybe, um, connected?”
So how can we tell when it's the unhealthy White Knight syndrome versus a healthy generosity and hard work ethic?
Being aware of our intent can cut right to it.
What am I feeling? Emotions can be a great way to identify our real intent. If I'm feeling like a victim in any way, or I'm feeling a need for people to know what I've done, or I’m feeling resentful - those are all good warning signs.
Sometimes we have to dig a little deeper than the surface, because it can be easy to use those emotions to hold us back, rather than move us forward.
Ask yourself “what is making me feel this way?” “Why am I doing this?” Remember, our thoughts and beliefs drive our actions. If I’m thinking I need more recognition or acknowledgment, or I believe that I’m not good enough, or I need to prove my value, it could be a confidence issue, for example.
Giving of ourselves can be very healthy and beneficial, but giving too much for the wrong reasons will only cause problems for ourselves and our teams. Take some time to reflect on this. See if you can find what might be driving your actions.
For us White Knights, sometimes it’s better to just get off the horse. Walk around and talk to people. Listen and be sensitive to how they might be feeling. Put yourself right into it, with your direct reports and your peers. Empathize.
People don’t want a White Knight to come in and save them. They want to learn and grow and be empowered. This, my friend, is how you will be valued and feel connected!
I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions on the white knight syndrome, or any workplace topic. In almost all cases, other people benefit so much from your questions too!