Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?
I mean, we live in a world where, no matter what the debacle, the response you’re most likely to hear is “Mistakes were made.”
Note the passive tense and the lack of identification. Not “I made a mistake” or “The CEO made a mistake,” but mistakes just happened to have been made somehow, kind of like my friend’s little cactus plant that managed to throw itself out a window.
Except that that really happened – the suicidal cactus – but with corporate malfeasance some people, somewhere did some things and those responsible just aren’t owning up.
So how can I be thinking that some people take too much responsibility?
It’s because I’m thinking that the way our society and our assorted work cultures deal with responsibility resembles our relationship with food. Yes, I’m saying our approach to accountability is like an eating disorder; some people take too much, some people take too little, and some people take a lot, but it’s really just the empty calorie equivalent of accepting responsibility.
What do I mean by “empty calories” when it comes to taking responsibility? After something goes really wrong, or they’re caught red-handed in a compromising position, have you ever heard a politician or public official say, “I take full responsibility for my actions,” and then nothing happens?
That’s what I mean.
Sometimes, people take more responsibility than circumstances warrant, and that’s O.K. That’s when they’re the boss, and a boss’s job is to stay late, give away credit and take blame.
At least, that’s what I think a boss’s job should be.
But there are people who take on too much responsibility and they’re not in positions of authority and they’re not being compensated for it and it happens much, much too often.
Often times they’re support staff, secretaries, middle managers, junior colleagues, new hires – people who are just too darned decent to drop the ball even though it’s not their fault the ball is falling in the first place.
Meanwhile, while these decent people take on unfair burdens, over-working themselves and risking burnout, others are not doing their jobs and they’re getting away with it.
Every now and then, it makes sense to cover for someone else, to do a little bit extra to complete the project, make the deadline or get the contract.
But when it becomes a habit, those who take on too much responsibility – while more virtuous than their slacker colleagues – are doing just as much to perpetuate an unhealthy work environment.
So maybe the first step in dealing with your company’s responsibility disorder is for the overly responsible to just say no.
What do you think?
by Danielle Dresden