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For professionals, boundaries more than bureaucracy – a very important management style difference for clever workers

Capable professionals achieve more and are more contented if their work constraints are more like boundaries than bureaucracy. If simple rules, constitutional principles, broad descriptions of authority accompanied by inspiring goals, set the direction and structure, in-house lawyers and their teammates can cope with the unpredictable challenges of a law department with flexibility, creativity, and enthusiasm. Whereas, if elaborate guidelines, policy statements that fill binders, forms and documentation, legalistic interpretations of authority, levels of approval, and other trappings of a regimented and regulated workplace dominate, professionals chafe, underperform and resent.

That distinction, at least, is what I glean from Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Clever: Leading your smartest, most creative people (Harv. Bus. Press 2009) at 43 between loose boundaries and tight bureaucracy.

Which leadership culture prevails in a law department – and all departments manifest aspects of boundaries and bureaucracies – depends on the size of the department, the psyche of the general counsel, corporate culture, the evolution of the department, and other factors. Creating the right sort of space for high-performing lawyers within companies “sufficiently large to allow clevers to express themselves, but also with boundaries that help them focus their efforts – is vital” (at 51).

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