What Is Bureaucratic Leadership? (Definition and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Leaders can influence the performance of organisations by allocating duties, monitoring progress and motivating employees to perform their tasks. They can use a leadership style like bureaucratic leadership to guide companies. Learning about bureaucratic leadership can help you determine whether this leadership style suits the organisation or your targets. In this article, we define bureaucratic leadership, list situations where this leadership style can be helpful, highlight the core qualities of bureaucratic leadership, outline the elements of bureaucratic leadership, provide qualities of a bureaucratic leader and explain the benefits of bureaucratic leadership.

What is bureaucratic leadership?

Bureaucratic leadership is a leadership style that follows a hierarchy where formal duties are fixed. Leaders using this approach function per official rules set by superiors within the company. Employees under this leadership follow specific authority and regulations developed by their managers.

Bureaucratic leadership has a distinct chain of command, follower conformity and stringent rules. This leadership style can suit highly regulated institutions, industries and government bodies with a rigid structure functioning through specified rules. The leadership style can also help organisations that require employees to follow existing processes.

Related: 10 Types of Leadership Styles

Situations where bureaucratic leadership can be effective

Bureaucratic leadership can be effective in specific cases. Using this management approach can increase the chances of success in these circumstances. Here are the situations where bureaucratic leadership can be effective:

  • Employees perform routine tasks regularly. Bureaucratic leadership can help institutions where employees have regular tasks, such as manufacturing. When the job is normal and fixed, it may require defined working guidelines and safety rules to follow the law.

  • Employees require specified procedures or standards. Following defined guidelines or standards can ensure the safety of employees and equipment. For example, this management style can help institutions handle dangerous materials and avoid leaks, accidents or illegal disposal.

  • Employees use delicate or dangerous equipment. Institutions with employees handling these tools may require definite procedures to operate or train new staff.

  • Employees perform tasks comprising handling substantial cash. Bureaucratic leadership can ensure these employees follow strict procedures and policies to avoid loss or pilferage.

  • Employees work on construction sites. Bureaucratic leadership can ensure construction staff follow defined standards when performing their duties.

  • Public officers that help uniformed and non-uniformed public institutions. Bureaucratic leaders can succeed while helping society in public offices. These leaders can minimise malpractices, ensure quality and increase security in government organisations, schools and universities.

Related: What Is Leadership? (With Key Elements of Leadership)

Core qualities of bureaucratic leadership

German sociologist and political economist Maximilian Weber defined the concept of bureaucratic leadership. He asserted that this management approach could help institutions obtain maximum efficiency. Maximilian Weber propounded six essential tenets in his theory. Here are the core qualities of bureaucratic leadership proposed by Maximilian Weber:

Specialisation

Employees can only perform specific roles and duties when they understand the job and possess the necessary skills. The system prioritises having the right individual in the proper position. Each individual has the necessary skills to perform the defined roles and duties. Employees can improve their performance because of the structured repetition.

Hierarchical structure

Bureaucratic management follows a formal and strict hierarchy with definite and rigid arrangements between departments and people regarding the job and instructions flow. The command structure flows downwards, with crucial decisions being taken centrally and communicated to subordinates. Managers and administrators can relay information and allocate duties to help maintain clarity and efficiency in the institution. They may also monitor employees' progress towards set goals.

Related: What Is Organisational Culture? (With Types and Tips)

Impersonality

Employees can achieve the organisation's objectives and goals by working collectively. Bureaucratic leadership prioritises the institution's holistic performance. Individual personalities and accomplishments are less important, while equality, performance and consistency are critical. This approach ensures functions and operations happen rationally with less interference by individual differences or emotions.

Division of labour

Demarcating and segregating responsibilities and tasks among employees can eliminate ambiguity. Clarity can ensure there's efficiency with specific task allocation getting prioritised. Each team or employee knows what they have to do every time to help the organisation achieve its objectives.

Procedures, rules and guidelines

Guidelines and regulations provide a framework and define specific action plans among employees. These rules guide employee conduct and direct daily tasks. They enable employees to understand how to handle various issues and the measures regulating them. The rules can define small and more significant tasks. This management approach may be highly comprehensive, but it creates the framework for leadership and execution.

Standardisation and impartiality

Bureaucratic leadership enables fair and impartial treatment among employees. Leaders can use bureaucracy to manage individuals' conduct and behaviour without favouritism. Fairness in bureaucratic processes is crucial because it minimises discrimination by treating individuals similarly. Employees face the same punishment and rules, despite their status or position. Employees can accept disciplinary measures when they do wrong and be content the organisation's leadership treats everyone fairly.

Elements of bureaucratic leadership

From Weber's six tenets of bureaucratic leadership, we can infer some essential elements or characteristics of bureaucratic management. Prioritising these elements during decision-making and operations can ensure this management approach works. Here are the aspects of bureaucratic leadership:

  • The system needs systematic and strict discipline among the subordinates. This scenario can arise because of the guidelines or rules, which comprise every aspect of the organisation. Bureaucratic models establish guidelines for work and employee conduct through all stages.

  • The framework clarifies leaders' power position. Subordinates know the individuals wielding power within the organisation. The clarity of hierarchy is crucial, as it ensures individuals respect authority and complete their duties.

  • The leaders bear authority, and subordinates follow managers' guidance. The system imposes leaders and may punish employees who may fail to attain set targets.

  • The system requires a promotion and reward system. This process allows the managers to recognise individuals that follow the rules. A bureaucratic framework rewards speciality and congratulates excellent work that enhances the organisation's performance.

Qualities of bureaucratic leaders

Bureaucratic leaders may use various skills when performing their tasks and responsibilities. The essential skills you may require to be a bureaucratic leader include:

Attention to detail

Bureaucratic leaders require detail-oriented skills because this management approach prioritises rules and enforcement. The leader can monitor the minute details to ensure employees follow guidelines. You can develop and improve these competencies through different activities. For example, you can play memory games or complete puzzles to improve your memory and focus.

Related: How to Improve Attention To Detail Skills

Ability to work hard

Bureaucratic leaders may work hard to achieve objectives. This framework prioritises performance. The leader may set an example of the required standards by finishing objectives well. Bureaucratic leaders may need intrinsic motivation to encourage them to put in more effort. They can set clear goals, build habits and reward or penalise themselves. It may also be necessary to work hard to oversee each subordinate's work.

Task-oriented focus

The bureaucratic framework involves performance and pursuing objectives. Leaders can determine the goals and define how employees can handle tasks efficiently. Task-oriented leaders may create schedules for subordinates, prioritising their tasks' requirements. They can prioritise each objective's standards. A comprehensive understanding of the company, different essential processes and the functions to allocate employees can help achieve the set targets effectively. Leaders may also require concentration to be task-oriented.

Passion

Bureaucratic leaders require a passion for executing their duties. Being passionate allows them to prioritise objectives, concentrate and work hard to ensure everything works well. Employees may also observe and imitate the passion their leaders have. Bureaucratic leadership prioritises goals and involves strict routines. These aspects can make the work tedious. Leaders require enthusiasm to overcome this feeling and inspire others to embrace their leadership style.

Related: Tips on How to Find Your Passion in Your Profession

Pros of bureaucratic leadership

Bureaucratic leadership can have various benefits to organisations. Here are the typical pros of bureaucratic leadership:

  • Bureaucratic leadership provides clarity and distinction of roles, jobs and relationships. This setup can create defined boundaries outlining job responsibilities and functions. Relationships in this system are impersonal and role oriented, enhancing the staff's ability to drive outcomes impartially.

  • Bureaucratic leadership ensures there's less ambiguity. Fixed command structure, roles and responsibilities can make managers and employees enjoy less ambiguity, promoting familiarity with an individual's position. This setup allows team members to fit the organisation's structure, enhancing confidence among employees regarding identifying their expectations, roles and duties.

  • Bureaucratic leadership creates efficient systems. This framework can develop best practices. Organisations can use this management approach to complete tasks in specific methods, achieving the desired goals quickly and affordably without changing the end product's quality.

Related: Pros and Cons of 10 Common Management Styles (With Examples)

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