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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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- The Loopy Things We Do at Work
- At the end of the day, your skill at finding humor inside the dull and ordinary can make the difference
between going home exhausted and going home in a strait jacket. Adopting a twisted view of the goings-on
might just help keep you untwisted.
- The Injured Teammate: I
- You're a team lead, and one of the team members is very ill or has been severely injured. How do you
handle it? How do you break the news? What does the team need? What do you need?
- Staying in Abilene
- A "Trip to Abilene," identified by Jerry Harvey, is a group decision to undertake an effort
that no group members believe in. Extending the concept slightly, "Staying in Abilene" happens
when groups fail even to consider changing something that everyone would agree needs changing.
- 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.
- Why Scope Expands: II
- The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often?
One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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