How do you recognize a bureaucrat when you see one?

I worked for a very bureaucratic company for thirty-six years. We, first line managers, had to learn to deal with corporate bureaucrats. I have never really stopped to try to define one. I just had to deal with them. Now, after a meeting with university officials this week, I think I have a better idea of how to define one.

This week, I went to a meeting for fraternity advisors at my university. During the meeting we discussed all the issues fraternities have with their pledges. There were several bureaucratic top down control measures given on how we could control all the risk issues. It was a great discussion. We advisors sat in amazement as the university gave us their answers to our problem.

After the meeting, I talked with two university leaders. My suggestion was for them to eliminate the pledge issues by eliminating pledgeship. No more pledges.

One of the executives, a dean, was nodding his head in agreement with me, but, I could see his body was preparing to leave. The meeting was over, in typical bureaucratic style, his role was over. We discussed the issue during the meeting, it was made clear, it was not his problem it was our problem. Finally, he said, “Just let me give you my card; please contact my secretary.”

The other executive is in charge of fraternity relations for the university. He seemed to be very interested in my concept; that is, the university had to handle this issue; because, it was a system problem. All the fraternities would no longer have pledges. We discussed this issue; him nodding in supposed agreement. Then, one alumni leader came up to our conversation to give us his opinion. I turned to the other fraternity advisor to clarify my point. When I turned back, the university official he was leaving the room.

This reminds me of a thirsty man finding a deep dark hole in the ground, it is round, deep, so deep you cannot see the bottom; but it looks like a well. Now, does the thirsting man invest his time and energy to try to get to the bottom of the deep dark hole in his hope to find water?

This is what it is like talking to a bureaucrat. Bureaucrats sound like they have the answer, they want to help, they talk with authority, with power, and a keen ability to listen to you. But, talking to them you see a blankness in their faces, a nervousness in their body, they are standing there; but, wish they weren’t. This is what I, in hindsight, have seem many times. You are pushing them to make a decision that runs counter to a bureaucracy’s ethos, which is, “don’t take risks.”

You, a person that thirsts to solve a problem, when you encounter a bureaucrat, are you willing to spend your time and energy, thinking you can get their help to solve a problem; knowing there may be no water at the bottom of the hole.

I think we have all been in this situation. Most times, we have to find water somewhere else.

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About OJ

I am a retired first line manager with over 40 years of experience. In operations management, accounting management, and central operations management. It is my wish to convey some of the experiences I have learned form over the years in the articles on my site.
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