The best bosses know how to subtract work

The minus mindset may be unintuitive but it is essential

COMPANIES ARE used to celebrating addition. Profits, customers and share prices should go up rather than fall. Innovation is the adding of new products. Larger numbers are a measure of career success: managers climb the corporate ladder by taking on more reports, running heftier budgets and trousering bigger salaries. Genuine superstars don’t just add. They multiply. The best software programmers are tagged as “10x developers”, for supposedly being ten times more productive than their peers.

Firms are not always opposed to subtraction. There are good kinds of cuts: carbon emissions, most obviously. Reducing costs is a necessary part of management, though not a welcome one. But the value of doing less is underestimated. The best bosses are those who take things away as well as add them on.

That means clearing time for employees to get work done. Meetings are almost always called by bosses. Some are useful; many of them have all the pizzazz and impact of a speed-…