The black hole of the bureaucracy…

Any big bureaucratic organization worth its salt has a process covering just about everything you might need to accomplish during your regularly scheduled work period. If you’re lucky, some of those processes might even actually work despite inevitably being antiquated, creaking relics left over from the Eisenhower Administration.

More often, in my experience, the process that exists simply stops working at a certain point. Somewhere along the workflow there’s either a person or an individual who is the organizational equivalent of a super-massive black hole. Everything that crosses into the jurisdiction of this office or individual passes across some kind of bureaucratic event horizon from which not even light itself has the velocity to escape.

These places are, in the simplest terms possible, where projects, paperwork, and hope go to be extinguished. These are the places where the process, no matter how well intentioned or neatly diagramed, simply break down and prevent actual work from happening. They’re the very core essence of what it is to live and work in the bureaucracy.

If a staff officer is worth a damn, he’ll find ways to work around these dangerous sectors – identifying people who will play ball and allow him to navigate around the gravitational pull of broken processes. Eventually, though, the bureaucracy catches on to the fact that it’s being subverted. It lashes out with renewed fury to suck in all the paperwork that has heretofore managed to escape its grasping maw.

With no way around and faced with failing timelines if work is pushed through the process to its illogical conclusion, sometimes all even a seasoned bureaucrat can do is shrug, accept that nothing will ever be completed in a timely manner, and prepare for the inevitable, quasar-like explosion once the black hole has consumed more work product than it could possibly hope to process.

Look, I’m paid for the same eight hours whether shit gets done or not, so if you’d prefer the “or not” option, just let me know up front so I’ll know how much effort to apply to any given issue. That could have saved us all a whole bunch of time. In the meantime, if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here heaving products over the event horizon expecting to never see them again.

The leadership vortex…

I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a moment in the life of every event when the big day is close enough to finally attract the attention of the greatest of the high and mighty. It’s the moment when your rater, and his rater, and his rater, and his rater, and the big daddy rater of them all finally start paying attention. It’s a little bit like setting your desk up in the center of a hurricane. For lack of a better phrase I like to think of these last few days before an event starts as finding myself at the heart of the Leadership Vortex, where you’ll be assailed on all fronts by people who outrank you who have all, finally, been visited by the Good Idea Fairy. These moments represent a direct opposite condition to business as usual, which I so often charitably describe as finding yourself victim of the Black Hole of Leadership – in which everything you throw towards them for a decision disappears over the event horizon never to be seen again.

Friends, today I can report with equal parts joy and trepidation that we have reached the Leadership Vortex point in the current event’s planning cycle today. I’m joyful because it means the end is in sight while the trepidation stems from a dozen experiences of knowing how truly awful the center of the Vortex can get before you’re pushed clear on the other side. Yeah, currently I’m being provided leadership from every quarter to within an inch of my professional life.

There are a few things you need remember when you find yourself squarely in the middle of the leadership vortex:

1. The guidance you got yesterday or even an hour ago may or may not apply.

2. For the duration of the Vortex, every single person in your rating chain is now your immediate supervisor.

3. When you receive conflicting guidance, always defer to the ranking manager. You can’t shift the blame up, but it’s your best bet to find some modicum of top cover.

4. It can’t be escaped, simply endured.

5. This too will pass. Probably.

Sigh. The things we do for King and Country.