Leaders of the Free Culture

by Isaac Getz

AUGUST, 2011

Truman is said to have mused about Eisenhower taking over the president’s office, issuing orders only to discover that nothing gets done in the bureaucratic swamp. But this fine politician underestimated “Ike.” President Eisenhower realized the bureaucracy problem on day one when an assistant handed him a sealed envelope: he promptly changed this time-wasting procedure. Later, he asked for memos to be kept to a one page maximum—instead of several-dozen. Letters from congress were similarly summarized into mere one-liners. He signed only with initials, again, to save time. Yet, despite these and other streamlining measures, Eisenhower still kept the bureaucracy.

Of course, the White House and bureaucracy are pleonastic, but Eisenhower’s efforts raise a fundamental question relevant to any organization’s leader: if bureaucracy is so bad for performance why stop just at streamlining? Why not get rid of it completely? Many agree that eliminating bureaucracy is the ideal, but argue that a real organization is impossible without it. Like barnacles dragging on a boat and yet inevitable, bureaucracy is an inevitable cost of running a company, coordinating its activities.

However, some leaders looked at the bureaucracy phenomenon from a different angle. To them it is the epitome of how people who take initiative to advance the company—the best people—stop trying and either get depressed or leave. In an ocean cruiser this cost on people may not be felt immediately but in a small boat—98% of all companies—the effect is stark and is of sinking.

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