Issue #193: S P A C E | ‘Bottlenecks’

S P A C E | ‘Bottlenecks’

Here is the lead story for this week’s issue of S P A C E. More about S P A C E is at its crowdfunding page, #spacethezine.

I emailed a little with Ben Brearley, who has a podcast ‘Thoughtful Leader,’ and who has been a consultant for managers who want to become better at what they do.  

This is something he says he has been doing for more than a decade. ‘I started my coaching business because I was unhappy with the state of leadership in our workplaces,’ he wrote, when I asked why he does what he does.

It was one of my favorite interview questions, when I was a reporter in Seattle. How did you get into this?

Letting people say what they want to say about why they do their work is a way to open up a conversation that might take an unexpected turn, without agendas.

It was good to ask this. 

The bottlenecks episode of his podcast was really good.

I had listened to it, then got curious about getting more clarity on what kind of people get in the way of processes and flow. Maybe they know they are doing it. Maybe they don’t.

But, these are people who hold up workflows.

I wanted to get more details about the realities of power dynamics at people’s offices. In listening to Ben talk about ‘bottlenecking,’ I wanted to know more.

Specifically, I wanted to inquire about the idea of certain personalities or behaviors stifling flow, and thereby causing headaches for the people who work for them. So I reached out to start a conversation, with :

Dipika: How common would you say bottlenecks are?

Ben: Bottlenecks are extremely common in my experience. Especially when leaders feel insecure, or are under-resourced.

This means they may need to make do with fewer people, encouraging them to get more involved in the day to day work and you’ll see more experts or “single points of failure” arising.

Dipika: Predicting something is hard. But I am wondering if there are ways to ascertain what’s coming.

What are the telltale signs to watch out for that this is starting to happen in an organization?

Ben: Some telltale signs would include ‘leaders who say “nobody else knows how to do it”.

You will see this if you notice that they don’t train others to do tasks, rather, they continue to do it themselves.

Another indication is a micromanaging leader. Someone who won’t delegate, needs to be involved all the time to review everything, and has difficulty letting go.

Dipika: What is the opposite experience from bottlenecking, from the employees’ point of view, would you say? How does it look when things are in flow?


Ben: When things are in flow, then I would say that team members have the “right” amount of autonomy and accountability to perform their roles and feel motivated, while the leader is appropriately involved in the work of the team, without overstepping.




And there is some redundancy in the team – so that people understand each others’ roles and can assist where needed. As with anything in leadership, it’s difficult to get it perfect.

Dipika: It sounds like the need for power is at the center of bottleneck instances. Wondering if you would agree. Or if that’s oversimplifying.

Ben: I think power is accurate as the reason, but in my view it’s also important to understand the reason behind this.

For example, do they crave power so they can achieve greater things?

Control people?

Or do they crave power because they are fearful of their circumstances? If it’s the latter, then creating a psychologically safe environment may help them to feel less threatened and you may see a shift in this behavior.

For those leaders that crave power and authority for achieving their goals, this may require a watchful eye to ensure they don’t start to create a toxic work environment in the pursuit of their goals…

I think people should be able to enjoy their work, rather than put up with bad leadership.

Dipika: Thank you, Ben.




To get this issue of our zine, S P A C E | ‘Bottlenecks’, you can download the PDF from our shop. Then, you can print out the 4 double-sided pages, fold each in half, assemble, and carry off the paper version to your favorite place to quietly read… on paper. Discover more about the ‘why’ behind this lo-fi publication, at its crowdfunding page, which is Dipika Kohli’s #spacethezine.