Leadership Success and Its Greatest Barrier: the Law of Administrivia Written by Gerald Czarnecki
Years ago, a very wise, and often cynical boss of mine asked me for a definition of management. After reflecting on question I proceeded to give him an intellectually careful and, I thought, accurate definition. He allowed me to complete answer and then came back with his definition which was, “Management is just one darn thing after another.” After having a good laugh, I thought about his remark and concluded that he had basically identified what makes life so challenging for those in leadership positions. The flow of “things to do” never seems to stop.
How often have you gone home at end of a day feeling frustrated because you had accomplished far less than you had planned? How many times has your “To Do” list grown by more items in one day than you marked off in a whole week? For most of us, this has happened far too often.
The larger problem is that “To Do” list we make for ourselves gets longer because somebody else adds to that list…more often than not, our boss. Frequently that list seems to be growing by an endless number of tasks that have more benefit to someone else, and very little benefit to getting our jobs done. While list grows longer with these less critical items, our own list of critical, mission essential items seems to get more and more delinquent.
Most leaders are faced with conflicting priorities and almost invariably somebody else is making decision as to what our priorities must be. It could be a boss, but it can also be a customer, a vendor or even an organizational peer. In short, demands on our time come from many places, and all too often those demands appear to be less essential than our own priorities. The real tragedy, however, is that most of us also opt to complete priorities of others before we accomplish our own. This is not irrational, but it is often wrong choice.
One of long-standing principles in economics is called Gresham’s law. It states that if two currencies are circulating in an economy—one a high-quality currency that everybody trusts and believes in and other a poor-quality currency that everybody thinks has substantial risk—then “the bad currency will drive out good currency.” This means that everybody will want to hoard good currency and give bad to other people whenever they can.
In leading, same principle applies. I call it “The Law of Administrivia.” That Law postulates that… Required or less useful activity drives out desirable and useful activity. In other words, people will do tasks that they think are easy, trivial, and required first, in order to get them out of way. Then, with time left over, they will do what is desirable or useful but not required. In short, people will do trivial administrative tasks (what I term “administrivia”) first just to avoid trouble with boss. Then they concentrate on that which they know to be useful. Unfortunately this creates a dilemma since amount of administrivia grows once boss concludes you are able to handle what you have already been given to accomplish. That boss continues to pile on work.
Eventually you do less and less of what you want or need to do and much more of administrative work. Worse still, since administrivia is usually easy work, while being a leader is hard work, guess which work you end up spending more time on? The easy jobs. After a while, all that gets done is required, trivial, and maybe even useless.
Lead to Succeed: The Seven Essential StepsWritten by Gerald Czarnecki
In my book You’re In Charge…What Now? I use a mnemonic to describe seven essential steps to work leader success. The mnemonic is “L.E.A.D.E.R.S” and each of these letters represents an essential step. While I have simplified elements of leadership into seven words, essence of my message is that being an effective, peak-performance work leader is simple, but not easy.
The responsibility of being an effective work leader is much more important than being an effective “manager”. Every effective manager leads first, and manages second. In my lexicon, there are two things “person in charge of an organizational unit” does: first is to lead people; second is to administer processes that make up work. I call this administrative activity mechanics of managing…these are activities of planning, organizing, controlling, report writing, etc., and of course implementation of technical work of unit. These are critical activities and can never be ignored, but in my experience those managers who focus preponderance of their time on mechanics, ultimately do not succeed. They may achieve short term results, but they usually fail over time.
That which is done “to and for” people makes a work leader a long-term success, not what he or she does to administer mechanics. Indeed, a manager with great leadership skills can sometimes be successful without being an effective administrator. I have worked for leaders like that, and they were great achievers.