Protégées and Parasites: Knowing the Difference as you Invest in Others


May 22, 2014

If you are a leader a big part of your job involves investing in others. People are a central part of what leaders do. But every leader is limited by time and resources, so how do you know who to invest in? Regardless as to how big your heart is for others, everyone must still be a wise steward of his time and resources. Small investments  in people occur all the time – but if you’re planning to invest more deeply in someone or some group, make smart choices. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about investing in people, leadership students, professional interns and staff.

Recognize the purpose of investing: 

The purpose of investing in others is not to provide your protégées with personal self-fulfilling experiences or to help them achieve limited, temporal goals. The purpose of investing in others (as a leader) is to either allow them to participate effectively in your existing leadership endeavors or to prepare them to use their strengths to influence others in ways you cannot.

This is becoming more difficult to achieve due to the fact that the current crop of young people that you’re likely to find yourself investing in are consumed with their own journey, their personal benefit and personal recognition. The default “self-focused”nature of those under the age of 30 reveals that people do not understand putting duty before self, the importance of sacrifice and the value of pursuing things of eternal worth. When investing more deeply in others, It’s important for leaders to remember what they’re trying to produce and to recognize the prevalence of self-focus that exists in 21st century people. Know your goals but also know the battlefield.

Identify the difference between mistakes and patterns of behavior: 

Mistakes are part of the human experience. Mistakes are characterized by unwise decisions that are made out of character with the direction someone is going. Mistakes can be dealt with and people can get back on the right path. When you’re investing in others, always make room for mistakes and different growth trajectories.

Patterns of behavior however, are different than mistakes. Continued patterns of unacceptable behavior are counter-productive to development. Recognize this distinctive and remember that making excuses for others doesn’t change them. Change does not occur until people take personal responsibility. No change? No personal responsibility? Getting lots of excuses and justifications? Then it’s time to stop that investment.

Figure out the difference between a true protégée and a parasite:

Mike Murdock in his book, 7 Laws You Must Honor to have Uncommon Success, puts it well. He says, “A protégée is very different from a parasite. A parasite wants you to sponsor them and pay their bills. A protégée wants you to direct, teach and train them.  Parasites want what is in your hand, protégées want what is in your heart.”

Obviously the goal of a leader is to spend his time investing in those who identify with his philosophy and his values. But in a leader’s desire to see change, help others and reproduce his vision, it’s easy to miss this important principle – some people are parasites. They hold on, they push their way in, they take, but they provide little if any benefit. A parasite wants you to provide everything – from money and things to experiences. He will eventually drain you of energy, passion and hope.

A protégée, on the other hand, energizes you as they connect to the “real” you and desperately want what’s in your heart to be in his heart.

Investing in people will always be risky – but with a little bit of wisdom about your investment, you will be able to avoid wasting time and keep from investing in those whose motives may be less than pure. You’ll be surprised how much time will be free for you to invest in things that will yield returns – not necessarily for you personally, but returns that might just change the world. And that’s what it’s all about – making choices everyday to influence each person who passes through our lives to live and think differently, to treat others in an uncommon way and to allow their faith to be the sweetest thing about them.

One thought on “Protégées and Parasites: Knowing the Difference as you Invest in Others

  1. Thanks for sharing! I’m going to have a couple of leadership positions in college next semester, so this is super helpful. I’m sure I’ll have more opportunities to apply this advice as time goes on.

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