Overfunctioning and VUCA

Overfunctioning and VUCA

A resilient leader is well-equipped to deal with the VUCA world.

“Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity”
Many people we work with often tell us that VUCA is a perfect description of today’s workplace. Many are doing their best just to survive in their high-stress, fast-paced, and complex work environments, but most want to do more than just survive. They aspire to thrive, and to create workplaces in which their employees can thrive as well.

Over-and underfunctioning—is key both to surviving and to thriving in a VUCA world, where committed, aware leaders often burn out themselves and/or the people they lead.
Overfunctioning, is “to think, feel, or act for another in a way that erodes another’s capacity for ownership or thoughtful action.”
It is not just about doing for others; it includes thinking or feeling for others in a way that interferes with their own effectiveness. This means that excessive worrying is a form of overfunctioning, as is spending too much time thinking about how to solve another’s problem.

Burnout is not simply a rational-world, quantitative issue—a matter of working too long or putting in too many hours; it is an emotional-world phenomenon, created by feeling responsible for things that are not ours to carry. The solution, is not necessarily to do less (although that is often part of it), but rather to feel less responsible for what is another’s responsibility to own.

Consequences of Overfunctioning

Failure to scale. Organizations may be able to do a successful “sprint” by asking leaders and others to go after a short-term stretch goal, but in the long run, an organization that is interested in elevating its operations to reach a new level of performance
simply cannot build on a foundation of overfunctioning. Jim Collins uses a flywheel analogy in his famous book Good to Great to describe how well-run companies produce and sustain high performance. He recounts several examples where companies slowly and carefully build their capacity and capability to compete and win in their marketplace. Collins’s point is that successful company “flywheels” pick up speed gradually, incrementally, not as a result of short bursts of overfunctioning, but rather with sustained, ongoing development of capability and capacity.

Burnout. We describe resilient leaders as those who “lead from strength, know how to care for themselves emotionally, spiritually and physically, and can sustain their leadership efforts over time.” By definition, sustainability is key to long-term success, and the most resilient leaders are those who have learned to pace themselves at just the right speed over the long haul. The effects of a leader’s burnout can be devastating, and unfortunately, most organizations have many stories of the way a leader’s burnout has been a dead weight—or worse—on the organization at large.

Poor health. Prolonged overfunctioning translates into a sustained stress response, which results in our bodies being overexposed to cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones—all of which disrupt normal bodily functioning. Accumulating research studies have documented the increased risk of health problems that result, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment


  • As you consider your various relationship systems at work and at home, where and with whom might you be overfunctioning?
  • If you or other members of your team are overfunctioning, what is the impact on you? On the people around you? On the system as a whole?

For more information on VUCA and Overfunctioning, Contact us through this website, email Jimm@resilientleadershipdevelopment.com, or call us at 301-922-4221.