Responsibility Junkies

Responsibility Junkies

IMG_0452“If it’s never our fault we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.”

Richard Bach

Some of us are responsibility junkies. We can’t carry enough responsibility, so we go looking for other people’s responsibility to carry as well. Ironically, everyone around us, including ourselves, gets weaker in this scenario.

Those of us who carry more than our share of responsibility begin to buckle under that weight. Those of us who have the pleasure of being near a responsibility junkie become dependent on that person to carry the load. We fail to learn lessons in initiative, accountability and independence.

It can become so difficult to bust out of this cozy and comfortable co-habitation – for both parties. The responsibility junkie gets to feel safe that everything that needs doing is done well and appropriately. Those people near a responsibility junkie are never far from an instant solution to their problems – and a solution that requires minimal exertion on their parts.

Harvard Business Review published an article, Who Has Got the Monkey, in the late 70’s that talks about this very phenomenon. Problems are like monkeys that we carry around on our backs. We have to care for and feed all of the monkeys we carry around.

Often, people we supervise come into our office and put one of their monkeys – aka a problem – on our desk to talk about. If we are responsibility junkies we charge off trying to find solutions to the problem. Soon, the co-worker walks out of our office and leaves the monkey in our capable hands to care for and feed.

Let’s take poor work performance as an example. As a supervisor, your responsibility is to give feedback about performance and instruct co-workers about expectations. If you deliver a message that a co-worker is not meeting expectations, it now becomes the co-worker’s responsibility to improve performance, or to correct behavior. We usually call this a corrective action. Who typically writes the corrective action plan? In most cases it is the supervisor.

What monkeys do you tend to take on that are better cared for by their true owner? How do you return monkeys who find their way onto your back? How do you create a culture at work where everyone cares and feeds for their own monkeys?

Respond to this post if you would like a copy of the HBR article, Who Has Got the Monkey.