Administrative archetypes

Learn how some C-suite regulars will handle the latest committee concept.


If you have ever had the honor, pleasure, or misfortune (depending on your administrative leanings) to spend time on the committee circuit, you may have noticed certain recurring patterns of behavior and characters that fill the boardroom. In order to help readers achieve their goals in this environment, I offer a taxonomy of temperaments, charting of characters, and atlas of administrative archetypes. Learn how these committee comrades will handle the latest “concept.”

The Bloviator

Illustration by David Rosenman
Illustration by David Rosenman

Bloviation comes from the term “blowhard,” which was famously used by U.S. President Warren G. Harding to describe speaking as long as the situation warrants, while saying nothing at all.

Example: “Thank you for inviting me to this committee to discuss this concept. Concepts come and go, and without doubt, this is one of them. It is a glorious example of the power of concepts, the beauty of concepts, and the glory of concepts. Concepts are a fine part of our hospital, and in fact from the time of our founding physicians, we have relied on great concepts. Members of this committee, it is with the utmost honor, privilege, and, dare I say, duty that I tell you that this is in fact a concept worth conceptualizing. I look forward to further debate and I hope I have made my position quite clear!”

The Sesquipedalianist

This is a person who loves to use long words (See “The Antisesquipedalianist,” Newman's Notions, February 2018 ACP Hospitalist).

Example: “It is with exquisite gratification, jubilation, and delectation that I choose to enunciate and articulate my promulgation of this prodigious and portentous, yet still sublime, exemplification and prototypical illustration of a concept. This is no mere hypothesis or platitude, cliché or bromide. It is a startling, flabbergasting, and breathtaking chimera of concepts. As to an interrogatory on the conundrum of my subjective patronage or embargo of this concept, let me formulate a cognitively defensible response by an unambiguous and consequential utterance of yes.”

The Obfuscator

To obfuscate is to obscure or make unintelligible, encrypting conversation to make one's meaning unclear. The Obfuscator is also skilled in circumlocution, the art of speaking in circles.

Example: “I appreciate the opportunity to discuss my views on this important, but not necessarily vital, concept. I do have an opinion. It is one based on careful review of the literature as well as past and extensive experiences in this field. I would consider myself an expert on an amateur level on this topic. I wish to eschew obfuscation and clearly state my opinion. Thank you.”

The Catastrophist

This person always sees everything as a disaster in the making. No good deed goes unpunished (See “Catastrophization,” Newman's Notions, July 2018 ACP Hospitalist).

Example: “This is a terrible concept. If we do this, patients will be harmed. Staff will revolt. Administrative burdens will skyrocket, and our net operating income will drop like a rock. Length of stay will go up. Patient experience scores will tumble. That being said, if we don't approve this concept, we will certainly be audited by CMS and fail a Joint Commission review.”

The Consensualist

This member thrives on consensus and won't rest unless everyone on the committee is in agreement.

Example: “I think we all can agree this is a fantastic concept. Are we unanimous? No? How about that it's a great concept? I see some dissent. A decent concept? How about an adequate one? OK, I think we can all agree that this is without doubt a concept.”

The Proceduralist

This member's focus is on systems and procedures. This expertise may be essential for navigating the bureaucracy once a decision is made but is less helpful before that point.

Example: “I think we need to discuss this concept further, but before we do, we need to review any kind of approval process. I am not sure if it's a good or bad idea, but we need to make sure it's been vetted by the proper committees before we decide. To even consider this concept we need to go to H-RC, HHPCOM, IT-TEEBITTEE, and QQX and get their buy-in. We need to make sure this is approved and noted in the minutes.”

The Pointillist

Pointillism is branch of Impressionism where images are created as small dots. Georges Seurat is most renowned for this pixilated technique. The Pointillist thinks and speaks in bullet points.

Example: “I'd like to make some pointed comments. First, let me say this is a concept. Second, it's a concept we need to discuss. Third, it is a concept we need to vote on. Fourth, we will need to communicate our findings.”

The Devil's Advocate

This term comes from the process of canonization in the Catholic church in the 1500s. The advocate's role was to argue against a candidate being made a saint.

Example: “I have heard the details of this concept. There are numerous reasons that it should not be supported by this committee. The stakeholders haven't been considered, the cost is unreasonable, and it hasn't received the proper approvals. We've tried this before and it was not a success. This one needs to go back to the drawing board.”