Who doesn’t want to feel like, and be seen as, a reliable leader with a great sense of accountability? They’re loved by everyone! They’re successful. Right?

Yes. But only to a point. Taken too far, feeling responsible for everything and everyone is damaging for you personally and professionally, and is indicative of real structural issues within your organization that need addressing.

Tips for leaders who feel they are drowning

If any of the scenarios below sound familiar we have some life line strategies that will help you get your head above water!

  • You believe it is important to deliver the highest quality in all things. Sloppy standards reflect poorly on you and your organisation. You know you put too much pressure on yourself; your working hours have become unsustainable; and you’re not having fun anymore … but you tell yourself this is necessary because you are accountable… 

  • You receive an urgent request from a colleague. It’s really not good timing, because your to-do list is already so long, but you do your best to respond in a timely and professional way. Nevertheless you feel ‘abused’ as you couldn’t act on what was really important. You tell yourself you had no choice and you felt you had to do it… 

  • You realize there’s an important task for the organization that needs to be done. It’s not a task you are supposed to be doing but as there’s nobody else taking it on their shoulders, you take it on despite your huge workload. You tell yourself you do this because you care or because nobody else does …

  • You notice that your team has not delivered a quality piece of work – an analysis or report. Rather than telling them that the quality is insufficient and asking them to look at it again, you spend hours working on it yourself. You tell yourself you do this because you feel responsible for the team…

In our experience, when such ‘sacrifices’ become too frequent, leaders start feeling frustrated. They feel they have no choice if they follow their high quality standards. They want to do ‘the right thing’. For others to approve of them. To be seen as competent and reliable. To not fail!

The problem is that in so doing … by continuing to tread water more and more desperately … leaders tire themselves out and lose sight of the shore they are trying to swim to i.e. the real priorities for the organization and themselves.

Next time you feel you are drowning, ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. What are the ‘real’ reasons that I am taking on this task? Is it because I want approval or feel that others will not do it to a high-enough standard or is it because I am the right person to be doing it at this time?
  2. What should I be spending my time on? Given current priorities, the organization’s and my own. Looking at the big picture and setting aside personal fears, what should I focus on?
  3. How can I help others to understand and accept my decision? How can I make them prioritize the needs of the organization over their own needs? What alternative solutions can I suggest e.g. that someone else takes on the task as a developmental capacity.
  4. What is being accountable, responsible and caring? Is it taking the ‘best’ decisions for the organization – or is it ‘just’ pleasing others? Surely colleagues will approve wholeheartedly as they share the same goals?


So, the next time you feel you are drowning, consider what it is that is weighing you down and see if you can jettison some of those unnecessary fears. It is possible to be an accountable, responsible, caring and inspiring leader without making too many personal sacrifices and your organization will be the stronger for it!

For more or more detailed advice on ‘sustainable peak performance’, contact us for a training or coaching.