The dangers of over-delivering

Photo of exhausted woman from behind, showing desk cluttered with papers, computer, phone, eyeglasses“Under-promise and over-deliver.” It’s a common principle, especially in consulting and other service businesses.

But – as we discussed in a recent group meeting – sometimes over-delivering isn’t such a great idea. As a prime example, I recently had a conversation with a woman who routinely got middle-of-the-night phone calls because she had become the go-to person for anything that came up – regardless of whether it was actually her responsibility.

We want to do a good job. We want to be seen as helpful, reliable, and resourceful. A team player. All those good career buzzwords.

But what happens when over-delivering goes overboard?

Got a life?

This is the obvious question, of course. As with the woman who got middle-of-the-night calls from work, it’s all too easy to let over-delivering creep into every part of your supposedly-not-at-work time.

In fact, she confided to me that she’d “ruined” her relationships and “hardly sees” her kids. Yikes.

She also said, “I’ve got to figure out this balance thing I keep reading about.”

But in my opinion and experience, personally and with clients, “balance” isn’t real.

It tends to push us into trying to make everything come out even.  Which, since this is life, isn’t going to happen. And I’d argue that actual “balance” isn’t even what we really want.

Boundaries, on the other hand, are essential if we’re going to survive without doing Very Bad Things to our personal lives.

It’s not helpful, dedicated, or a good work ethic if we always come to the rescue of the people around us.

Which leads me to …

Are you a leader?


Leaders don’t do All The Things. Leaders delegate, mentor, and coach so their teams learn and grow instead of becoming dependent on someone else to figure everything out for them.

If you pick up everyone’s dropped balls – or, worse, accept balls tossed in your direction even when they’re not yours to juggle – no one benefits.

You become exhausted, overwhelmed, and not focused on what YOU are supposed to be doing. Everyone else becomes complacent and blasé because they know you’re there to backstop any problems … even when those problems are things THEY are supposed to be handling.

No one’s career benefits.

Yours doesn’t, because your boss wants to see you leading your team, not doing their work for them.

Neither does your team members’, because they aren’t learning, stretching into new experiences, and developing their skills.

So when is over-delivering a good thing?

Over-delivering can be good if it’s intentional and situational.

For instance, there’s a specific project you’re working on, and you know that with a little extra effort you and your team can deliver it a few days early.

This is specific, intentional, and limited to this single instance.

When your team participates in this type of over-delivery, they’re learning and growing (instead of becoming complacent and stagnant).

And your life isn’t being swallowed up.