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Management Myths: The Myth of Red Tape – Part 2 of 3

By Bruce Tulgan

This is Part 2 of a 3 Part series. You can view Part 1 HERE.

Managers are prevented from being strong because there are many factors beyond their control—red tape, corporate culture, senior management, limited resources.

Managers tell me every day that despite their best efforts, they are held back by rules and red tape and contracts. By the way, some managers hide behind this challenge as an excuse to not manage. And almost always, right beside them, in the very same organization with the very same rules and red tape and contracts, there are lots of managers who find ways to work within and around the rules and red tape and contracts. It’s difficult, but they do it anyway because that is their job.

How do you work within and around the rules, red tape, and contracts? I am a lawyer technically. So let me tell you what lawyers do when confronted with rules and red tape and contracts. They learn the rules and red tape and contracts backward and forward. And then they work them. What else is there to do? Learn the rules and work them.

Are you worried about being sued? There are many impermissible reasons for distinguishing between and among employees. Performance is not one of them. As long as you can demonstrate that any rewards or detriments to employees are based solely on their work performance, there is no basis for a claim of unlawful discrimination. Find an ally who can help you learn the rules and work the rules: Someone in HR. Someone in legal. Someone in EEO. Someone in the union. Your boss.

Remember this: Of course, there will be things you can’t do. Don’t do them. If you do, you’ll get in trouble. But often you can do things you didn’t realize you could do, once you learn how do them. There are so many things you can do. You cannot remove every obstacle. But there are so many partial solutions that make such a big difference.

The myth is believing that the factors beyond your control are what make you feel powerless.

What is the reality? Focusing on what you can’t control makes the most powerful person weak, whereas focusing intensely on what you can control—to the exclusion of what you cannot control—will always make you stronger.

The fact is, there are so many things in your control: you, your guts, your skill, your habits, and your time. You don’t need anyone’s permission to be strong. You don’t need anyone’s permission to talk to your employees more often—one-on-one— about the work each is doing. You don’t need permission to set people up for success, to spell out expectations clearly every step of the way, to clarify goals and guidelines and deadlines. You don’t need permission to monitor and measure and document performance every step of the way. You don’t need permission to zero in on small problems immediately and solve them before they grow into larger problems. You don’t need permission to try your best to steer more rewards to people who go the extra mile.


About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (Revised & Updated, 2014). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website