In Part 1 of this blog series I outlined “over-functioning” in the workplace and invited you to assess whether you may be attempting to help in ways that are not-so-helpful. We also explored some of the subsequent costs to you, your people, and your organization.

Why do leaders over-function? Most leaders who over-function have been doing so for most of their lives. It’s literally the way they approach their endeavors and relationships.

There is status to be gained in over-functioning. Over-functioning leaders and team members are often lifted up as heroic figures – the “go-to” people we can rely on to go above and beyond the call of duty to advance shared goals. It’s nice to feel important and needed. However, behind the hero narrative are what Stanford Lecturer Shirzad Chamine calls Saboteurs. Saboteurs are patterns of thinking, feeling, and doing that undermine our effectiveness as leaders as well as our happiness. Let’s look at some of the saboteurs that encourage over-functioning:

The Controller: Fueled by anxiety and impatience, this leader has a high need to take charge and control situations. Those who are driven by this saboteur hold the beliefs that: 1) You are either in control or out of control; 2) If you work hard enough you should be able to control a situation; and 3) You are doing others a favor by taking control. Underneath the controller’s over-functioning behavior is the hidden fear of being controlled by others and a commitment to avoiding vulnerability.

The Hyper-Vigilant: Always on look-out for danger or what might go wrong, hyper-vigilant leaders hold chronic doubts about self and others. They self-justify “over-functioning” with beliefs that include: 1) Life can’t be trusted; 2) There are threats, mishaps, and mess-ups just around the corner; and 3) Be ready to jump in at any moment to prevent bad things from happening. Behind the hyper-vigilant leader’s unhelpful way of helping is a constant sense of anxiety that the world is unsafe and unreliable.

The Pleaser: Motivated by a high need for acceptance and affection by others, pleasers find it very hard to say “no”. As a result, they take on too much, including the emotions and stresses of others. Pleasers over-function because they believe: 1) Good people put the needs of others over their own; 2) Expressing my needs is selfish; and 3) The world would be better if everyone did the same. Pleasers initially enjoy other’s dependencies on them but ultimately become resentful and burnt out.

The Hyper-Achiever: This leader’s self-esteem and identity come from the status they gain through external success. They tend toward workaholism. Hyper-achievers justify their over-functioning behavior with beliefs like: 1) Life is about getting results; 2) Feelings are a distraction to achieving our goals; and 3) Do what it takes to chalk up the next “win”.

The Stickler: With tendencies toward perfectionism, this leader often takes the need for organization and their own high standards a step too far. They are quick to label their disappointment in others’ work as “laziness” or “sloppiness”. Beliefs they hold include: 1) There’s a right and wrong way to do things; 2) I know the right way; and 3) It’s my job to make sure it’s right.

Do any of these saboteurs and the core beliefs associated with each sound like you? For a more reliable self-assessment take the online Saboteur Assessment.

In Part 3 of this blog (which will be released in mid-July), I will provide some thoughts on how you can learn your way out of over-functioning by noticing and overriding these deep-seeded habits of thinking, feeling, and doing.

Image Credit: Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

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