Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 6;   February 6, 2002: Are You Taking on the Full Load?

Are You Taking on the Full Load?

by

Taking on the full load is what we do when we feel fully responsible for either the success or the failure of some organizational activity. Instead of asking for help, we take extreme measures to execute responsibilities that might not even be ours.

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?

One person taking the full loadNot 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 load
While 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? Go to top Top  Next issue: After the Accolades: You Are Still You  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe 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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See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
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Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.

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