In my executive coaching practice, I have come to find that the success over-commitment often promises is hard won, if won at all. Left unaddressed over time, over-commitment will hurt you and possibly kill your career.

The over-committed college student writes, “While my anxiety has soared, I luckily haven’t run into serious consequences yet.” Just wait a few years, I say to myself. These are the words of someone who falsely believes she has dodged the effects of over-commitment. She hasn’t. The consequences are serious and they rarely fail to show up over time.

Now, fast forward some years and the consequences can be easily seen in the executive who is in constant “fire fighting” mode. Symptoms: exaggerated exhaustion and consistent failure to produce excellent work. Sound familiar?

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WHY YOU WON’T SLOW DOWN

When I look at the load many executives have taken on, I can come to a simple, single conclusion: the load is more than one person can do successfully.

And why do you agree to a workload that is not viable for one person to execute? Your boss, you say? You think, “If I don’t get it all done, I will be fired or replaced.” Really?

Your boss cannot see that the load is killing you? You have been out twice on medical leave. Your spouse, children, friends, and executive coach all see it and are effected by it. However, no one is suffering more than you.

Here’s the truth behind the over-commitment to your boss: You don’t want to disappoint anyone. You want to prove you can do it. You don’t want to fail. I’ve heard these sentiments time and again while coaching; you are not alone in this.

Conversely, for some, this is the truth: you would rather die than fail, disappoint or not be good enough. And for the first time in your life, you’re coming to terms with it. But why hold so fiercely onto something that is damaging you, your health and your personal relationships?  Be careful of this “truth”…it just may trap you.

GO EXPLORING FOR THE STRAIGHT TRUTH

Why would I keep this unproductive, harmful commitment to over-commitment in my life? For everyone the answer is different and deeply personal. It is sacred ground and it is important to tread lightly. I highly recommend personal journaling.

Use journaling as your search tool to probe deeply. Ask yourself: Why is it so important that I not disappoint my boss? What would happen if I weren’t good enough? What are the costs to my health when I incur so much stress? What do I believe would happen if I stopped living to prove myself? What would happen if I disappointed someone?

These are excellent AND uncomfortable questions to ask yourself. And even tougher to sit with them. But I believe your mind will take on the challenge if you begin to ask. Maybe you will get very clear answers. Maybe you won’t. There is no harm in asking, only benefits.

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11 Comments

  1. Thank you for your insightful questions, Linda.
    There have been times when I believed I could do anything, that no commitment was too much for me. Slowly, I came to see that the effort I was putting into being overcommitted did not reflect who I really was or what I truly wanted to accomplish.
    Thank you for telling the straight truth.

    • There are many younger executive men I am coaching that will be reassured by your words Greg. Thanks for sharing that you once believed no commitment was too much. Powerful wisdom to pass on.

  2. Well said Linda! This reminded me of a business owner I know recently hospitalized for this condition. I enjoyed your site very much and was intrigued by your accountability assessment.

    • In a recent session I conducted someone was off to hospital in the middle of the whole thing as I spoke of this very issue. The mind and body are connected! Happy to share more info on our assessment Rick. Our contact page awaits!

  3. Great piece, Linda, I really enjoyed reading it. the only thought nagging away at me is that we know a lot of over-commitment at work is driven by the (nearly universal) fear of inadequacy, and the one person most people feel they can’t share that fear with is their boss. Hence the importance of journaling, I see that. At the same time, there are quite a lot of people who, if they did share this concern with their boss, would actually find the answer coming back “I share that fear as well, even more so’. What strikes me is the number of CEOs and Board Directors who over-commit themselves because of a profound fear of being inadequate. This is why there is real scope for a meeting of minds in those cases where someone does feel able to take the risk and share at work what’s going on in their head.
    Pete
    asaleader.com

    • The profound fear of being “discovered as inadequate” is, as you point out Pete, so common among senior executives that showing them that most of their effort is directed to keeping their job, not doing their job is relatively straight forward. Living “not” to be something is the source of the exhaustion and makes a leader quite predictable as to their risk tolerance; not inadequate, not stupid, not on top of every single thing, etc. will guide every decision. In The 85% Solution – How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success I talk about what has to be given up to be able to live fully in one’s inadequacy combined with all their talent. Why live not to be something? Put this way…as you probably know, the straight truth does set many free. Encouraging as many as possible at the top to tell their truth (sans judgement) instead of hide it is, in my opinion, an important aspect of leadership coaching. The executives who don’t want to go there tell me to take a hike. The one’s who do go there are thriving.

  4. I’m so glad Geoff Talbott invited me over to your blog, Linda. I really appreciate your words and the work you’re doing. Performance-based acceptance is a very difficult belief to learn to disbelieve, yet every step away is a journey toward freedom.

  5. Linda, this article hits the nail squarely on the head. And guess what…it’s not just the folks who have bosses. I’m the CEO of my own company, and I’ve decided that I’ll never fire myself, no matter what I do. And that doesn’t mean that I have no problems with over-commitment. It’s so easy for me to fall into the trap of trying to micromanage, not delegate, take on too many projects or clients all at once. So your article was a great reminder to me to plan my time each day, do the tasks that will actually produce revenue in my business, delegate the things I don’t need to be doing and take time out to play! Thanks so much for the great blog! I look forward to more! Warm regards, Hugh Liddle, CEO Red Cap Sales Coaching

    • “…your article was a great reminder to me to plan my time each day, do the tasks that will actually produce revenue in my business, delegate the things I don’t need to be doing and take time out to play”
      Hugh, an additional resource for this that I have found really helpful is page 119 of The 85% Solution, “Empower Your Time”. Enjoy!

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