“… and she loved a boy very, very much — even more than she loved herself.” … Shel Silverstein

They all pile into her office. She is their rock. Girlfriend problems, the kids are sick, the raise didn’t come through, the project has been delayed again. She welcomes them in. She knows the names of their grandkids, and that Lisabeth is going to Maui on her honeymoon in early June with the guy she met in the soda aisle of Safeway. She might be the HR manager, Director of Operations, she might be the CEO, Comptroller. Whomever she is… she cares and offers comforting words of wisdom, challenge, new perspectives. She guides them. She guides them all and can’t stand the notion that others are not ready to help… to mentor. If she has a strong Rolodex, she opens it up and makes strategic connections. She is “The Giving Tree” or the proverbial ‘mother hen’ in the office. It makes her feel valued and valuable until she starts feeling like a stump with few resources left, especially if she faces challenges in her own life.

When a family member and I were discussing Shel Silverstein’s world-famous children’s book The Giving Tree a frown came to her face. “Too much sacrificial love,” she said.

The story is about a little boy who visits the tree, swings from her branches, enjoys her apples… but then as he gets older, he has no time for such things. He needs to work and make money.

He leaves for years at a time and she feels lonely and misses the boy. She is thrilled when he comes back.

He shares he is struggling and she happily gives him all her branches to help him build a home.

…And then when he gets much older and has new needs, she gives him her entire trunk to build a boat. All that’s left of her is a stump, a place where he can sit in his old age. A place they can be reunited.

The tree will keep giving. She is happy that she has something to offer, but I speak to so many women executives that share they feel like a stump, drained of energy, burning out in the workforce. Men share this too. They need to be replenished in a world that loves and welcomes martyrs @work. The big challenge for our giving trees and mother hens is asking for help. They are willing to give but find it hard to receive. Couple and Family Therapist Dr. Joan Soncini and I spoke and she shared that part of it is co-dependency issues. When a child’s parents withhold approval, they may spend their lives seeking the approval of others. Feeling that they are not enough.

How do we create a more reciprocal environment at work and decrease burnout of our valued team members? How does the Giving Tree learn to take and welcome help?

“I use to think that if I were a better person, others would be happy. So I’d stay in the office later at the expense of my health and family,” shares Taylor* a commercial real estate executive. “Then it dawned on me that no one else cared if I stayed three hours late, missed yoga and dinner, so why was I doing that to myself?”

“Speak to the person and start with empathy,” states Soncini. Boundaries need to be set if they are giving too much away at the cost of their well being. “Don’t respond to work emails from9: 30 pm to 8 am,” I suggested recently to a good friend and we discussed her writing a document of her accomplishments over the past year and how she feels the company could be structured better to avoid significant stress. “How can you better prioritize yourself?

One female CEO shared with me during one of our Twomentor Flash Mentoring exercises (where we orchestrate it for everyone to mentor and be mentored) that she forgot how to ask people for help. That she was experiencing some challenges and really appreciated the strategic mentoring she received in the session. It energized her. She set up two follow-up coffee dates as well.

For women, especially executive women, we have so much to offer and we do need to avoid stumping- ourselves. We need to build mutual mentoring and sponsoring relationships (a sponsor is someone who champions you to others for opportunity, a mentor encourages, challenges and advises you). Our branches are so much stronger than we realize and we can definitely trade apples… I have Fuji and you have Red Delicious, plus you know that amazing leader who has Granny Smiths- can you connect us?

When mentoring-sponsoring-givers coming together in the workplace we become orchards of strength with vibrant, healthy trees bearing many kinds of fruit for ourselves, our families and our companies.

by Julie Kantor, CEO Twomentor