Every now and then, we stumble upon intriguing phrases in the most unexpected places. For me, it was the term “responsibility hoarder” during an episode of Star Trek: Discovery 1. This phrase sparked my curiosity, leading me to Robert Dubin’s The World of Work: Industrial Society and Human Relations where I found the passage that most likely inspired the phrase 2.

So, who is a responsibility hoarder?

A responsibility hoarder is someone who refuses to delegate or consult with others. They look at things as personal fiefdoms and think they are the expert and tend to pile up work on themselves to show that they can handle that.

Every one has stories or anecdotes about managers who indulged in hoarding responsibilities. Surprisingly, some managers inadvertently encourage this behavior, setting a precedent for their employees. This can create a vicious cycle where team members start hoarding their own tasks, emulating their superiors.

Having read Carol Dweck’s Mindset 3, I recognize that responsibility hoarding may be linked to a fixed mindset. Those with a fixed mindset often feel compelled to prove their worth by handling everything on their own. However, I also understand that not all responsibility hoarders have a fixed mindset. There may be other reasons why someone might choose to hoard responsibility, such as a lack of trust in others, or a fear of failure.

So how can I avoid being a responsibility hoarder?

As a new manager, this concept struck a chord with me. It made me realize the importance of setting some guidelines for myself to avoid the responsibility hoarding trap. I know that responsibility hoarding is not sustainable in the long run. It often leads to overburdening yourself, working late, and unintentionally becoming a bottleneck in your team.

Here are some tips for myself to avoid responsibility hoarding:

  • I will trust my team. I’ve capable individuals in my team, and I will trust them to perform their roles effectively.
  • I will delegate tasks. I will not try to do everything myself. I will delegate tasks to my team members, and give them the autonomy they need to be successful.
  • I will be open to feedback. I will not be afraid to ask for feedback from my team members and my manager.
  • I will take breaks. It is important to take breaks, even if I am a new manager. I will schedule regular breaks for myself, and use them to recharge and refocus.

I need to remember that I am not responsible for the success of the entire organization. My job is to do my part to the best of my ability, and to trust my team members to do the same.

So, how can we create a work culture where responsibility hoarding is discouraged and employees are encouraged to delegate and collaborate?

  1. Star Trek: Discovery S03E04: “Forget Me Not” ↩︎

  2. The second kind of irresponsible behavior among bureaucrats is a hoarding of responsibility. A bureaucrat who hoards responsibility has a self-image as an infallible authority. … He is exceedingly eager to prove his competence, either to himself, or to his superiors. … He refuses to delegate to subordinates, or does so reluctantly and without admitting their ability to do as well as himself. The responsibility hoarder may pile increasing work loads on himself, so that he appears to be exceedingly devoted to his position. … He may become a bottleneck in the organization. … A responsibility hoarder simply misconstrues the assumption of personal responsibility for a display of personal initiative. - The World of Work: Industrial Society and Human Relations by Robert Dubin.

  3. Mindset by Carol Dweck espouses the idea that people with a fixed mindset — those who believe that abilities are fixed — are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset — those who believe that abilities can be developed. ↩︎