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I had a few interesting experiences with birds and a butterfly recently that left me thinking about assumptions we make. The first experience was with a foundling, fledgling bird that reminded me that often when we think we are rescuing, we are in fact hindering:

Someone found a tiny fledgling tree swallow in Prospect Park. It seemed to be unable to fly and in need of rescue. I offered to take it to the vet thinking I could nurse it back to health. A friend found a small cardboard box and put the bird in it. We then proceeded to walk to the neighborhood vet. On the way, the tiny bird kept cheeping and opening its mouth the way baby birds do when they want to be fed. I assumed it needed to be fed and hoped the vet could tell me what and how to feed it.

When we arrived, the office was not yet open and only the receptionist was there. She said the best thing to do was call the Wild Bird Fund, a non-profit wild bird rescue organization. I called, left a message and took the bird home assuming I would need to keep it and nurse it back to health. I then checked out the Fund website and read that if the bird has feathers and is mobile, it should be taken back to where it was found so the mother could find it and teach it to fly. Rescuing this bird would actually deprive it of the lessons it needs to learn and grow.

I found a straw and gave the bird some water. It perked up and was able to hop a little. I brought it back to the Park, put it on a large tree root and stepped back and watched. The bird kept cheeping and within a few minutes it had hopped onto another root. Soon after, it was able to fly about two feet in the air and hold onto the trunk of the tree. Then, in less than 20 minutes, it flew into the branches of a nearby tree.

Seeing this tiny bird so quickly take flight after just a little hydration (the last few days have been sweltering) reminded me that others often have more resources and capacity than we assume and trying to help can often be a barrier to their growth.

Clients of mine often make this mistake with their team members. With the best of intent, they rush in to take over when one of their team members isn’t succeeding with a project or task. In their view, they are both taking care of their team member and ensuring that the work is done properly. In fact, however, they are both taking on tasks that don’t belong to them as a leader, thus adding to their already heavy workload, as well as depriving their team member of learning opportunities. Then they wonder why they are so burned out and why their team members aren’t able to take on certain tasks.

Where might you be hindering yourself/others when you think you are helping?