Evan felt the anger building again. He couldn't compile the monthly summaries until he had reports from every task leader, and Jeff was always last — and always late. And that made Evan's summary late. How could Jeff get away with this stuff, month after month?
Not long ago, Evan and Jeff had been good friends. Evan had tried asking nicely for the reports, but finally he felt compelled to send some nasty emails copied to Jeff's boss. These "tweaking CCs" (see "The Tweaking CC," Point Lookout for February 7, 2001) had probably ruined their friendship, but if the summaries were late, the company might have lost the contract, and Evan would have been responsible. He had sacrificed his friendship with Jeff because he felt personally responsible for meeting the contract requirements. Evan had taken on the full load.
We're taking on the full load when we feel fully responsible for the success or failure of some group activity. We forget that group success or failure depends on contributions from many people. Instead of seeking help, we take extreme measures to execute responsibilities that might not even be ours.
When we feel fully responsible
for the success or failure
of some group activity,
we might be taking on
the full loadWhile we often credit or blame leadership for organizational success or failure, no job — not even CEO — has full responsibility. Everyone has some responsibility, but no matter what your role, the company can always bloom or wither as a result of the actions of others. None of us is fully responsible.
Yet many of us assume that success depends on us alone. Some common reasons:
- I've been told that I'm responsible.
- Nobody actually told me so, but I know it's expected of me.
- If I don't do it, who will? And if nobody does it, we'll all sink.
- If this doesn't get done, we'll fail as a company.
If you find that you're taking on the full load, consider these possibilities:
- Your job might have been badly designed — it might have too much responsibility.
- You might believe that you're responsible, but it might be only your belief.
- If you don't do it, someone else might.
- Perhaps the company should fail.
When you take on the full load, you risk your career, your family, and your health:
- You put your own health at risk. Stress, sleep disorders, heart disease, depression, and shortened life are possible consequences.
- The quality of your work can degrade, as emotional and health problems develop.
- You risk your relationships with co-workers.
- You risk your relationships with family and friends. Marriages can fail.
Take some time to check whether you're taking on the full load. If you think you might be, ask yourself how that came to be. Think about the personal consequences for you. Is it worth the price? Can you ask for help? Top Next Issue
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
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About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
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Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Handling Heat: II
- Heated exchanges in meetings can compromise both the organizational mission and the careers of the meeting's
participants. Here are some tactics for people who aren't chairing the meeting.
- Some Subtleties of ad hominem Attacks
- Groups sometimes make mistakes based on faulty reasoning used in their debates. One source of faulty
reasoning is the ad hominem attack. Here are some insights that help groups recognize and avoid this
class of errors.
- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
- Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable
to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion
of control" — might provide explanations.
- Directed Attention Fatigue
- Humans have a limited capacity to concentrate attention on thought-intensive tasks. After a time, we
must rest and renew. Most brainwork jobs aren't designed with this in mind.
- Heart with Mind
- We say people have "heart" when they continue to pursue a goal despite obstacles that would
discourage almost everyone. We say that people are stubborn when they continue to pursue a goal that
we regard as unachievable. What are our choices when achieving the goal is difficult?
See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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