Reflection Friday: “Overfunctioning”

October 28, 2022   |   Lesli Mones

If you’re a leader and a hard worker, your work is likely all gas and no breaks—you’re moving on all cylinders all the time and left with little time to breathe. Your goal: get it done. And your tendency might be to jump in and do the job even when it isn’t yours, time and time again, because, well, it’ll be done more quickly—and more accurately—if you do it. This constant “yes mode” can leave you feeling exhausted, overwrought, and perhaps a bit resentful. Sound familiar?

We notice this a lot with Leaderlab graduates and others that we coach, and while it can masquerade as helpfulness, in reality, it’s overfunctioning. These leaders are often parents, the primary breadwinner in their household, and/or leading large, complex teams at work, feeling the pull of hustle culture telling them they’re not allowed to stop or won’t succeed. 

Another definition we love from Dr. Sara Gottfried is “hero-ing:”

Heroes in this context are operating from a place of fear rooted in a need for control, validation, or security. They habitually overfunction to save the day. They get rewarded in business and their family unit for doing what it takes to get the work done, but it’s a form of toxicity that leads to burnout, illness, and breakdown.”

This pattern can manifest in many ways:

  • You feel disappointed or surprised when the people around you don’t carry their weight, work as hard as you, or care as much as you do.
  • You look forward to your “end of day/week” treat (glass of wine, gluttonous meal, etc.) as a way to pull you through the day/week.
  • Your sleep suffers because your brain is on overdrive.
  • You spread yourself thin but fail to attend to your deepest thinking.
  • You get impatient quickly, leading you to quickly take work over from others, and you have a hard time accepting someone else’s so-so performance or delivery.
  • You don’t trust others to get the job done.
  • You only value your accomplishments but fail to appreciate other parts of yourself (broader humanity).

What’s often missed is that if you’re overfunctioning in one or more areas of life, it likely means you’re underfunctioning in others—at home, in relationships, in regard to your health or well-being. And this can create feelings of resentment and even depression, as other areas of your life suffer from neglect.


Reflection Questions

Since these patterns of overfunctioning take years to set in place, committing to change requires intentional focus, commitment, and time. We invite you to reflect on these questions to address your level of functioning and come back to an even playing field. 

  • Which of the above “symptoms” of overfunctioning sounds like you? 
  • Are there areas of your work that make you feel resentment? This is a strong emotional signal that you’re likely overfunctioning there and can help you pinpoint where you need to change. 
  • Where might you be under-investing/functioning (either in the workplace or otherwise)? To be the overfunctioner that you are, what else are you neglecting? Who/what is suffering from a lack of attention? 
  • Who are you training to underfunction? Consider that your behavior conditions others to deliver less. While everyone is accountable for their behavior, your level of functioning provides room for others to kick back. 
  • Think of three things that you’re holding on to—whether out of habit, anxiety, or lack of faith in others—that you should let go of. 

We’d love to know: do you identify as an overfunctioner? If so, what steps are you taking to stop? Find us on LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter, or email us at [email protected] to let us know!


Find us on LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter, or email us at [email protected] and let us know how you already do, or are planning to, give back.