The bureaucratic leadership style is based on the administrative needs of an organization. Although it is most often found in the public sector, any company can implement this type of leadership style for their teams and departments.
There are some unique elements which distinguish this leadership style from others that are commonly practiced. Bureaucratic leaders create a defined separation for the labor requirements which a team must complete. It is defined on a clear chain-of-command, with each leader having a defined structure for their power.
Bureaucratic leaders also tend to prefer rules, laws, or regulations that are rigid. When flexibility can be removed from the equation, then there are fewer unexpected consequences which may occur. With greater predictability comes more opportunities for personal growth for everyone.
Here are some of the key advantages and disadvantages of the bureaucratic leadership style to discuss.
List of the Advantages of Bureaucratic Leadership
1. It removes favoritism from the equation.
Bureaucratic leaders create relationships that are impersonal. The goal of each relationship is to ensure that the best possible results can be achieved. That means a friendship or family relationship doesn’t affect the process. The dynamics of these relationships are set aside for the good of the team and the company. That is why a bureaucratic leader is often part of a family-run business.
2. It centralizes duties and roles within a team.
Bureaucratic leaders prefer to have team members that have defined roles. Although people with the right experience may be asked to fill multiple roles on occasion, the goal of this leadership style is to create siloed experts. Each team member is responsible for a specific task. That allows each person to focus their strengths toward what they do best, including the leader, who helps to ensure that all questions are answered by the correct people.
3. It promotes higher levels of creativity.
For some, bureaucratic leadership looks like a mess of red tape. With numerous rules, regulations, and expectations, the responsibility appears to involve conformity, not creativity. The opposite is actually true. The people who tend to thrive while working for a bureaucratic leader tend to have a college degree, can work independently, and use their own creative influences to improve their workflow.
4. It creates a stronger level of job security.
Bureaucratic leaders work toward rules and regulations which reinforce the need to keep teams around. Although their positions are often governed by the rules they create, this also generates a lifestyle they can enjoy. Most bureaucratic leaders are in service positions, which means the focus tends to be less on the salary and more on the benefits, like vacation time or a pension.
5. It is a predictable form of leadership.
Bureaucratic leaders thrive in an environment where predictability is present. They create rules which are intended to help their teams create consistent results. Everyone is expected to follow the regulations which govern the work in the same way. Although this does place a limit on how creative influences can sometimes be applied, it does allow for an organization to have confidence in the results a bureaucratic leader may promise.
6. It always seeks to create best practices.
There are reasons why work is completed in one specific way for many organizations. That is because the best practices for a project are based on the fastest, cheapest way to do things without compromising the quality of the final work. Every leadership style has some level of innovation which must be built into the best practices over time. With these items in place, however, the outcomes are consistent enough that they can be used to create budget expectations for the future.
7. It is a leadership style which offers upward scalability.
Bureaucratic leaders work within a style which allows for scalability on an almost infinite level. Companies can keep adding teams to their structure to take on more work because they are confident that each project will be completed to the same skill and quality levels. Over time, an economy of scale can be built within an organization, allowing for team members to enjoy upward mobility, which has the side effect of lowering the overall churn rate.
8. It is a style of leadership which encourages familiarity.
The chain-of-command that is followed within the bureaucratic leadership style is one that is followed by most households, companies, and public service structures in some way. That makes it easy for new leaders to fit right into the company structure. Team members can identify their roles and meet expectations right away. When there is familiarity, there is confidence, and that can lead toward higher productivity levels.
List of the Disadvantages of Bureaucratic Leadership
1. It has a structure which has limited forward movement.
The issue with a bureaucratic leadership style is that the focus tends to be on specialization and consolidation. Leaders tend to stay in their positions until another position with a better salary opens up. Team members become specialists who stay in their position until the bureaucracy requires them to be in a leadership position. The only way that the chain-of-command functions well is if everyone involved is invested into the structure. If not, then one team member can disrupt the productivity of an entire team.
2. It can be a challenge to increase productivity.
Bureaucratic leadership may have scalability built into its style, but that does not mean productivity comes along for the ride. The structure can limit productivity because bureaucratic leaders use rules and regulations to create consistency. As more rules are added into the mix, workers are forced to slow down to ensure they are meeting required standards. For many teams, the best result is to maintain current productivity levels with better quality over time. At worst, bureaucratic leaders can create sharp drops in productivity.
3. It is often based on a system of quotas.
One of the reasons why team members become uninspired by a bureaucratic leader is that most systems are based on a series of quotas. If you meet the quota, then you’ve done your job. If not, then you’re not doing your job and are subject to possible disciplinary action. This can become an issue if one team member is extremely efficient and another is not. Most workers will not work beyond their quota either, which places another limit on the productivity levels that are available.
4. It is a leadership style which bases decisions on cost structures.
Bureaucratic leaders tend to be more concerned about what their teams and projects look like on paper instead of what is happening with each person. That means appearance takes a priority over reality. That perspective can cause changes in budget line expenditures, project availability, and even which demographics are targeted for consumers. In some ways, bureaucratic leaders encourage wasting money instead of saving it.
5. It does not offer freedom for creativity.
Workers are permitted to use their creativity with bureaucratic leaders within the context of meeting their quotas. Stepping outside of their job assignments is not permitted. Leaders will not usually listen to the advice of their team in this style either, though they might solicit for new ideas from time to time. Because of this lack of freedom, there can be low levels of morale frequently found on teams run by a bureaucratic leader.
6. It is not always a system that is efficient.
Although the goal of a bureaucratic system is to create consistency, this system can be highly inefficient in some instances. If workers are paid on a fixed salary and are asked to work extra hours, then their work productivity levels invariably decline. Completing repetitive tasks may lead to expertise in a specific specialty, while also creating fewer cross-over opportunities if a labor shortage occurs. If circumstances change quickly, the structures of bureaucracy can make it difficult to adapt.
7. It can be difficult for bureaucratic leaders to adapt to change.
A bureaucracy is built on the idea that what worked yesterday will also work today. That is a repetitive structure which continues on until someone forces it to change. In today’s world, markets can evolve on a daily basis. Opportunities may only be available for a moment or two. A bureaucratic leader may be able to recognize these opportunities, but be able to do nothing about them, because the organizational structures in place do not offer the flexibility required to act.
The advantages and disadvantages of the bureaucratic leadership style show that it can be a useful structure for companies which need consistency on a large scale. It creates rules and regulations which make it possible for multiple people to complete the same work in the same way. It can also be the foundation for numerous inefficiencies, especially when the focus of the leader is to consolidate their own position.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.