Secret Tips to Building a Long, Safe Career as a Bureaucrat

With very little effort or risk you can use these secrets to build a wonderful career in business.

Sure, everyone talks about wanting to be a charismatic, captivating leader who receives the adulation of the masses. The dream of many is to be the exalted, swashbuckling entrepreneur who is inducted into the pantheon of business heroes; a Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. Bob MacDonald on BusinessRich beyond all earthly dreams, without even mentioning the myriad, and other royal, perks of office.

Achieving success as an entrepreneurial leader is such a desired distinction that thousands of books have been written offering to teach the techniques of leadership; hundreds of schools offer advanced courses – even degrees – in leadership and entrepreneurism and a gaggle of “personal success coaches” make a comfortable living dishing up the “secrets” of leadership.

But,alas, there’s also a downside to all this leadership malarkey that many do not want to admit. There are far fewer opportunities to become a leader than a follower, so competition for those posts is stiff and often cut-throat. Likewise, with so many wanting to be the leader, there is high risk of failure. The leader is highly visible and accountable and this increases the insecurity of being a top dog. Leaders have to make decisions – often without the information needed to decide wisely. And if they err, that could end their otherwise auspicious careers. So, being a leader is not all peaches and cream.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Perhaps that’s why the better option is to be a bureaucrat. After all, the world always needs bureaucrats. Better yet, it’s a cushy job, lacking all the stress and pressure felt by leaders. There is no need for the bureaucrat to anguish over being creative or being required to make any decisions not foreordained by (often written) procedure. Just the opposite, there is a critical need for armies of bureaucrats to implement, monitor and control all process and procedure in an organization and to avoid making any decisions, because maybe they might go bad. And the demand for bureaucrats is even greater in successful organizations. Entrepreneurial leaders may be good at motivating, inspiring and driving success, but they universally lack the ability to manage success. Bureaucrats have a natural inclination to protect the status quo and resist change. (In many cases this ability has even led to bureaucrats being placed at the very top levels of an organization.) Besides, it’s a lot safer to be a bureaucrat.

Bureaucrats are usually invisible, nameless and innocuous; this allows them to hide in plain view – free from accountability – but behind reams of bureaucratic obfuscation. This anonymity Bob MacDonald on Businessgives bureaucrats the opportunity to build secret centers of power that can derail the efforts of any leader. In reality, the bureaucrat really has it all: little stress and pressure, high job security, little accountability for their actions (unlike leaders, action for the bureaucrat is really inaction) and they have the power to shoot any leader down and bring the momentum of an organization to a halt.

But there is one problem: While there are multitudes of books, classes and seminars designed to teach individuals to be entrepreneurs and leaders, no such resources dedicated to teaching people the best techniques of being a bureaucrat. No heady business manual entitled, “So You Want to be a Bureaucrat!” This puts those who may want to dedicate their life to the safety and security of bureaucracy at a real disadvantage, because people don’t realize that bureaucrats are made not born.

Well that disadvantage is going to change—starting right now! After years of observing (and cursing) bureaucrats, I am going to let you in on some of the heretofore hidden secrets of the best bureaucrats. My promise is that if you take these tips to heart and inculcate them into your own style of inaction, then you, too, can enjoy an obscure, long term, secure career as a bureaucrat. Here goes.

Tip #1 – Learn and commit to the creed of the bureaucrat: “Just say, No!”

You can never get in trouble as a bureaucrat or be blamed if something goes wrong, so long as your first reaction to any idea, suggestion or request is, “No.” Saying “no” will give you time to ponder a multitude of ways to delay and eventually kill any new idea or suggestion outside the norm. If you really get pushed on some idea or action, you can always fall back by saying, “That is a good idea. Let me consider it and I will get back to you.”

Tip #2 – Control any and all information that comes to you and never communicate effectively

Recognize that information is power. Your power. If you know something that others don’t know, you have leverage over them. You can use this leverage to make yourself look good and to make others look bad. The best way to maintain control over others is to keep then in the dark by withholding information, especially if it relates to their job.

View bits of information that you have as if they are nuggets of gold. You wouldn’t give away gold, so why give away the information you have? Having information puts you in the know and as a bureaucrat you know that you don’t want others to know what you know.

When it comes to communication, it is always best to communicate as little as possible. When communicating, always be as vague as you can be, using convoluted language and elusive conclusions. Bureaucratspeak, if you will. Some of the simple things you can do to increase your communication leverage are: Tell others what you want them to do, but never tell them why. Tell people just enough of what you know so that they know you know something they don’t. Tell different people different things. One of the best ways to communicate is to do so in a manner that makes it difficult for people to really understand what you meant. (This way, if something goes wrong you can claim the people didn’t do what you told them to do.)

Tip #3 – Become an expert at using “CYA” techniques

Mastering the techniques of the “cover your ass” attitude is essential to any successful career as a bureaucrat. Think of CYA as type of mind game in which you develop all forms of bob-and-weave, now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t, yes-I-do, no-I-don’t techniques to play hide-and-seek with responsibility. To be effective at CYA, any tactic that can be used to confuse and delay is fair game. Remember, the ultimate accomplishment of using CYA tactics is to accomplish nothing. Those who become proficient in CYA are always positioned so that when something goes wrong, they can shift the blame on others.

There are a lot of effective tools available for CYA, but the most popular and powerful is the “memo to the file.” The experienced CYA practitioner can churn out reams of memos (mostly to the file) that form a papier-mâché barrier intended to fend off the slings and arrows of blame and accountability. The key to these memos is for the bureaucrat to take the position as just a “messenger” who is reporting on the actions of others, not his.

Tip #4 – Never evoke a sense of urgency

The successful bureaucrat understands that taking action on anything is risky, so there should never, ever be any sense of urgency to act. For the bureaucrat the objective should be to do what can be done to delay getting something done. Lacking a sense of urgency is like pouring molasses into the gears of an organization that can slow down and eventually kill any vestige of creative ingenuity and forward momentum. All this without having to make a decision and, at the same time, protecting the bureaucrat from any blame or accountability.

Tip #5 – Keep this toolbox of bureaucratic tricks handy

There are many tools available to the bureaucrat, but here are just a few to keep in your bag of deceit.

  • Avoid setting deadlines. They can only cause trouble and get in the way of inaction.
  • Make things seem more complicated than they are. The more complex you can make an issue appear to be, the easier it is to do nothing and blame others when the issue can’t be resolved. Remember, simplicity is the bane of bureaucracy.
  • Always profess your admiration, loyalty and support for those above you. (Otherwise known as “ass-kissing.”)
  • Use the rules, regulations and formal organizational structure as your source of power.
  • Proclaim loudly and openly that you personally may not agree with the rules or want to do things with more urgency, but you are simply following the rules and doing your job.
  • When presented with an idea or new plan, ignore the big picture and nit-pick at the details. It is always easier to kill a new idea by picking at the details, rather than the idea itself.
  • Position yourself to take credit for all good ideas, no matter the source. Remember, you’re the boss. Staff ideas generated under your watch are yours.
  • Never, ever give credit to those below you and always be ready to belittle them in order to show your power and control.

And the Moral of the Story …

If you are looking for a comfortable, safe, secure and virtually risk-free career, you might consider becoming a bureaucrat. In these uncertain economic times, when companies are simply trying to hold on what they have and avoid risk it has created a great opportunity for the professional bureaucrat.

There may be those who mock and make fun of bureaucrats, but it is a growth industry. The bureaucrats love this because they know that if they are true to their profession, they will get the last laugh. People don’t realize how easy and fun it is to be a bureaucrat and have the power to frustrate others. There are many more opportunities to be a successful bureaucrat than a successful entrepreneurial leader. And these opportunities come without the pressure, stress and risk that follow leadership. And the pay is good, the hours are short and the possibilities of riding the Peter Principle are endless.

There has never been a better time to be a bureaucrat. If you have the dedication, commitment and effort to follow the bureaucratic creed, can cover your ass while kissing others’ and are comfortable with doing nothing, but doing it well, then you too could be a bureaucrat.




One response to “Secret Tips to Building a Long, Safe Career as a Bureaucrat

  1. I think Quentin is harsh on bureaucrats. But he does claim his mamxis are intended to provoke. There are plenty of ordinary organizations, particularly big ones, which are the same. They have people who are more concerned about promotion or wages or their secure pensions than about the purposes of the organization. And how about newspapers? They claim the great virtue of truth and public interest yet many are simply concerned with selling newspapers in order to get advertising revenue.I once suggested to a high executive of a large circulation newspaper that they should run an article criticising Company XYZ for its business practices. The answer: Out of the question, they are one of our biggest advertisers.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *