The Bureaucratic Leader

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sherri Hartzell

Sherri has taught college business and communication courses. She also holds three degrees including communications, business, educational leadership/technology.

High risk organizations often need leadership that uses a more rigid style, such as bureaucratic leadership. Learn about the needs of high risk organizations and how bureaucratic leadership can address these needs; but understand that bureaucratic leadership is not always appropriate, especially in organizations that need to be flexible. Updated: 06/14/2022

By The Book

There are certain times that you expect someone to do things 'by the book.' For example, you want to make sure that your parachute is packed 'by the book' before you head out to sky dive. Likewise, you want your tattoo artist to follow your drawing 'by the book.' You might also expect your repairman to fix your problem 'by the book.'

Truth is, there are a lot of things that we expect people to do 'by the book,' and for some of us, that means leading others 'by the book.'

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The Bureaucratic Leader

Someone who follows a 'by the book' management philosophy is referred to as a bureaucratic leader, a style that was first explained by sociologist Max Weber in 1920. Following rules, policies and procedures meticulously is what the bureaucratic leader lives for.

If for some reason the bureaucratic leader runs into a situation where there are no formal rules, policies or procedures to consult, he or she will seek the advice from his or her manager. The last thing the bureaucratic leader wants to do is make a decision without knowing that it is the right one for the organization. Consequently, decisions are typically slow paced and they ensure adherence to the principles of the organization by practicing routine methods for problem solving, as there is no room to explore new ways to solve problems.

Bureaucratic leaders expect their employees to follow the normative regulations they impose because of their formal role in the organization and the authority bestowed onto them. The employees who conform to the bureaucratic leader are often rewarded.

Bureaucratic Leadership in Organizations

Bureaucratic leadership is useful in organizations where there are serious risks, such as what you would expect at a nuclear power plant, a police station, a bank or other financial institution that deals with large amounts of money; or when working with dangerous machinery.

Likewise, bureaucratic leaders are effective in organizations where employees perform routine tasks - like what you would see at a manufacturing plant.

Whether safety or efficiency is the focus, bureaucratic leaders provide an apparent and strict leadership style that works to maintain the highest level of compliance in these types of organizations. Where bureaucratic leadership can fail is in organizations that must adapt to change and take risks on a regular basis. Some believe that bureaucratic leaders can stifle creativity, innovation and flexibility in organizations, preventing the company from reaching its goals.

To help you better understand bureaucratic leadership, let's take a look at this example. Bob is the head of a manufacturing company called Bikes for Tykes. He decided early on that quality, efficiency and safety were at the top of his priorities. To ensure that his employees were on the same page, Bob adopted a bureaucratic leadership style. Bob believes Bikes for Tykes is the perfect place for bureaucratic leadership due to the important safety issues surrounding the assembly of bikes - especially bikes that will be used by children - as well as the routine nature of assembling the bikes.

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