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What Is Bureaucratic Leadership? - Definition, Examples & Disadvantages

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Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Bureaucratic leadership is defined as a form of leadership in which there is a hierarchy of authority that creates rules for management and decision making. Learn the components of bureaucratic leadership: fixed official duties, hierarchy of authority, technical expertise, system rules, and written documentation, as well as examples and disadvantages of this type of leadership. Updated: 09/07/2021

What Is Bureaucratic Leadership?

Bureaucratic leadership is leadership based upon fixed official duties under a hierarchy of authority, applying a system of rules for management and decision-making. This style of leadership can be advantageous in highly regulated lines of business, and it can be an efficient management style in companies that don't require much creativity or innovation from employees.

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Features of Bureaucratic Leadership

You can break bureaucratic leadership down into several following components:

Fixed Official Duties:

All administrative and management tasks are broken down into permanent offices that permit clear lines of authority, responsibility and accountability. Let's use a software company as an example. The company may be broken down into divisions such as research and development, production, marketing, distribution and administration.

Hierarchy of Authority:

Positions in the organization are arranged in a hierarchy where lower positions are answerable to and under the supervision of the level above it. In our software company example, employees in the research and development division are supervised by their team supervisors, who are under the control of their department heads. The department heads are answerable to the vice president of the research and development division. The vice president takes his orders from the CEO, who takes her orders from the board of directors.

Technical Expertise:

Qualification for bureaucratic leadership is usually based upon the technical expertise required to efficiently and effectively manage the management tasks. In our software company example, the vice president of the research and development division may have a background not only in management but also software engineering.

System of Rules:

A bureaucratic leader is subject to a system of behavioral rules and technical rules. Behavioral rules define the scope of a manager's behavior and constrain his conduct, while technical rules control how work is to be performed and how decisions are to be made.

For example, the vice president of research and development of our software company is subject to behavioral rules that only permit him to manage his division. He may not direct the activities of any employee of another division such as the production division. Moreover, he is subject to technical rules that require him to go through a very formalized process when requesting funds for a new project. He is also subject to the company's employment policies relating to personal conduct.

Written Documentation:

The organization maintains written records of all rules, decisions and administrative actions. These records will help leaders by taking guidance from the past. Written records also help with accountability.

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