In part 1 of this blog series, we explored what over-functioning looks like and the price people and organizations may pay for this behavior. In part 2, we examined some of the underlying beliefs and behavior patterns that tend to cause over-functioning. In this third and final installment, we will take a look at how you can overcome the impulse to “help” in ways that are less than helpful.
If you are over-functioning it’s a habit that’s been developed over many years. You are predisposed to jump in when you see a gap rather than asking: “Is this my job? Does this belong to someone else?” It will take time to unlearn. Here are some steps to get you started:
Observe your patterns in relationships. Notice your tendency to take on more work than you should. Notice when you are completing others’ tasks. Notice when you are accepting more responsibility in a relationship than your fair share. Most importantly, notice your own sense of resentment, overwhelm, or fatigue based on all of the above. These patterns are signals you may be over-functioning.
Update mental scripts that self-sabotage. Take the Saboteur Assessment! Learn about your own mental scripts regarding how you see yourself (your value) and how the world should work. For example, in order to ensure nothing goes wrong, you may believe your role as a leader is to do any job that is not officially assigned (nor factored into anyone’s compensation package) . But this behavior will ensure that nobody is aware the organization may be missing an entire position! Updating your scripts often involves letting go – letting others do things imperfectly, make mistakes, and approach things differently than you would.
Hit the pause button on rescue. The impulse to rescue is so strong among over-functioners! It’s often based on anxiety associated with the belief: “If I don’t do it, nobody will.” Test this world view by creating some space between an apparent need and your response. As Susan Scott writes, “let silence do the heavy lifting.” Sometimes “discomfort” in the system must emerge for others to mobilize, strategize, and own a problem.
Name the costs and missed opportunities. Begin to calculate ways in which you, your organization, and your people are paying a price for your over-functioning. As a result of jumping into the fray too quickly are you denying others an opportunity to learn, take initiative, identify missing capacity in the organization, etc.? Equally important, in what ways are you failing to maximize your own time and energy due to over-compensating for others?
Retrain those around you. If you have conditioned those around you to see you as the “go-to” person, the rescuer, or the safety net, it’s time to establish new expectations. The first step is to take control of your calendar. Stop allowing others to override your priorities. Earmark certain hours and days during which you will respond to email and set an auto-reply to communicate that policy during off times. For any given project, be clear from the outset about what you can and cannot contribute.
Hone the art of delegation. Once you have stopped over-functioning you may notice one of two things: 1) people are unclear about their roles, responsibilities, and authority to make decisions; and 2) your organization simply lacks the people and/or talent to accomplish all the work it’s taken on. In either case, you’ll need to become a skillful delegator. Instead of automatically fixing problems and making decisions for others, take a coaching stance. Ask them what actions they’ve taken so far, and what other approaches they’ve considered. You will be amazed how quickly and enthusiastically people take responsibility once you step back (while supporting them).
Changing how you lead involves a new understanding of your saboteurs and a commitment to no longer doing for others what they can do for themselves. It means letting go of your need to serve as chief fixer and knower and instead embracing a new role in which you are helping those around you strengthen their own clarity, confidence, and agency.
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