15 Reasons Why Bureaucrats Obstruct

What motivates petty bureaucrats to be obstructive and undermine the effectiveness of their own organizations? Here are 15 possible explanations.

1. Egotism

Bureaucrats who have gone on record stating a position on X will obstruct any attempt to state a different position or disseminate evidence that they were wrong. In extreme cases of egotism, they may obstruct things that are simply not to their personal taste.

2. Political fealty

If a powerful leader or boss doesn't like X, then X shall be obstructed.

3. Laziness or overload

If obstruction results in less work for them, they obstruct.

4. Corruption

"If I let you do this, you have to do something for me." Crooks in the bureaucracy turn routine sign-offs into hostage negotiations.

5. Sadism

Some bureaucrats want others to adopt a subservient posture and beg them to do their job. They obstruct until they deem the obeisance to be adequate.

6. Fear of blame

If there is blame for going along with a bad idea but no accountability for obstructing a good one, they obstruct.

7. Fear of being replaced

If doing X is part of their job but they're insecure or know that they are bad at it, they see anybody else doing X as competition and a threat. Rather than work on their self image problems, they sabotage others.

8. Fear of irrelevance

Bureaucratic offices that have literally no need to exist will randomly barge in and try to bully people into dealing with them. The more they get bypassed and ignored, the more they obstruct.

9. Control issues

It's not about what gets done; it's about how it gets done. You have to do it their way.

10. Favoritism

It's not about what gets done; it's about who gets to do it. Certain people are marked for success. If you are being obstructed, you are not one of those people.

11. Pedantry

Every 'i' must be dotted. Every 't' must be crossed. "This policy is important! No one is doing it right, so we're cracking down. No one gets past us until they take the process seriously."

12. Distrust

No matter how innocuous the task, they always think you are up to no good. This may arise from personal biases or from organizational ones.

13. Revenge

A bureaucrat who feels wronged or insulted may retaliate by obstructing the offender's work, regardless of the importance of the work or the consequences of the obstruction.

14. Stalling

Even if obstruction cannot hold, it may be used as a delaying tactic to reach a more favorable position.

15. The curse of success

Leaders of organizations that have scored a big win may state a goal of "protecting the reputation" of the organization. This portends a lurch into extreme risk aversion that will bring all innovation, adaptation, and progress to a grinding halt.

Created: 2020-10-30
Last modified: Wed Nov 11 14:10:41 EST 2020
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