Wellness Pearls

23 April 2019

The Responsibility without Authority Trap

  • When my sister was in the throes of addiction, I did everything I could to try to fix her, make her different. No matter what I did, the outcome was the same: chaos and heartbreak.
  • A client spent hours leading a search for a new director. A well-qualified candidate was selected, but the boss said “no” and chose another candidate.
  • A friend’s frail elderly parents refused all suggestions for different living arrangements with more support. Untold hours were spent pleading and cajoling them into moving, yet the elders refused to leave their home.

In all these cases, we took on the responsibility without the key necessary co-ingredient: authority.

If you feel responsible yet lack the authority to get the job done, it may be time to name this corrosive dilemma. When we try to take responsibility for people/situations/projects that you have no authority over, you may be on a fast track to poor health, resentment and crazy-making.

Once you recognize the lack of authority, you have no choice but to put the burden down. Let it go and turn your attention to your own lane, even while staying interested in the person or outcome.

What are you taking responsibility for?

“Take charge of your life! The tides do not command the ship.
The sailor does
― Ogwo David Emenike

4 Responses

  1. Claire

    I realize that in my job as an academic educator, I have been given responsibility for ensuring that a program functions well, but no authority to make changes. I feel a huge amount of responsibility, and I find myself feeling responsible if something doesn’t go well even though I had no control over it. I can’t hire or fire or counsel people, I’m their peer, but also responsible to ensure that they are doing their job appropriately. I find myself trying not to micro-manage people, but also feeling as if I might be missing something. I also find myself questioning what I could have done to keep a colleague from leaving when it is really the dysfunction of the work environment that caused the colleague to leave.

    1. Eileen O'Grady

      This sounds really hard and I can hear how heavy this burden is. Recognizing this lack of authority is important. The culture of our work can crush us, so please take care of yourself in this.

  2. Mary Stein

    Eileen – this is SO hard to do! Sometimes every essence of my being wants to maintain a death grip over such people/places/things. Thanks for the reminder to stop trying to impact things I can’t control. A longtime colleague playfully warns/teases me in such situations by singing the refrain from Frozen, “Let it Go.” :)

    1. Eileen O'Grady

      YEs! Easy to say, hard to do. There is a lot of wisdom in that frozen song! COngrats for loosening the death grip, no easy task.

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