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What do you mean by bureaucratic leadership? Definition, qualities, pros & examples

Green pawn of chess, on the top of the pyramid, standing out from the crowd of whites, can be used leadership, hierarchy concepts. ( 3d render )
  1. What is bureaucratic leadership?
  2. Core qualities of bureaucratic leadership
  3. Pros of bureaucratic leadership
  4. Examples of bureaucratic leadership

What is bureaucratic leadership?

Bureaucratic leadership can be defined as a system of management that follows a hierarchy where official duties are fixed. Employees in this form of leadership are expected to follow specific rules and authority created by their superiors. Bureaucratic leadership is based on a clear chain of command, stringent regulations, and follower conformity. The above definition and the word bureaucracy itself is enough to put us off. The general negative view of administration and autocratic workings does not help the case, this is true, but the bureaucratic leadership framework has proven to be a reliable method of governing organisations with many organisations using it to their advantage. 

So, how can bureaucratic leadership still be beneficial?

Bureaucratic leadership systems can be of advantage for highly surveilled businesses where the entire organization pivots on efficient management. Workspaces that do not necessarily require innovation, problem-solving, or creativity can employ this style of leadership to their advantage. 

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Core qualities of bureaucratic leadership

German political economist and sociologist Maximilian Weber was influential in shaping the concept. He believed that bureaucratic leadership was a means to obtain maximum efficiency. As a result of his observation of how society was transitioning into more large scale production (larger factories and cooperations), he propounded six core tenets in his theory:


Specific duties and roles could only be performed when employees have sound knowledge and skills regarding the same. A skilled workforce is important for work to be carried out. The system, therefore, focuses on putting the right person in the appropriate position.

Hierarchical structure

Bureaucratic leadership follows a strict and formal hierarchy with rigid and definite arrangements between people and departments with regard to the work and flow of instructions. The chain of command flows downwards with important decisions being taken and relayed to subordinates. Administrators and managers can allocate duties and relay information to help maintain efficiency and lucidity in the organization and also hold employees accountable with set goals. 


The goals and objectives of the organization are achieved collectively. Bureaucratic leadership emphasizes less on individual contributions and more on the performance of the organization as a whole. As opposed to some other leadership styles that promote strong-headed leadership or like-minded individuals, Bureaucratic leadership is impersonal. Individual personalities take a back seat with consistency, performance, and equality being given more focus. 

Division of labor

Tasks and responsibilities need to be well demarcated and segregated among employees to avoid ambiguity. This, in turn, will improve the efficiency of the organization with specific task allocation being given paramount importance. 

Rules, guidelines, and procedures

Regulations and guidelines provide a framework and outline specific action plans among employees. They regulate employee conduct and help provide direction for day-to-day tasks. It enables employees to have a fair grasp of how to handle certain issues and the measures in place to regulate them. 

Impartiality and standardisation

Bureaucratic leadership enables impartial and fair treatment among employees. Through bureaucracy, people’s behavior and conduct are regulated without favoritism. Fairness among bureaucratic processes is important because it reduces discrimination by treating each individual in a similar manner. The same rules and punishment apply to everyone, despite their position and status.

Pros of bureaucratic leadership

1. Lucidity and demarcation of jobs, roles, and relationships

A bureaucratic leadership system creates clearly demarcated boundaries with respect to job roles and responsibilities. Relationships are impersonal and highly role oriented which enhances the employee’s ability to drive results with no influence of partiality and favoritism. The focus remains on results and the organization as a whole which enables employees to work towards a certain goal that is already set for them. Since most members are given their particular roles due to their expertise in a certain area, tasks can be completed with efficiency in a shorter amount of time especially with tasks being highly concrete and predefined. 

2. Less ambiguity

Fixed roles, responsibilities, and chains of command mean greater freedom from ambiguity fostering a greater sense of familiarity with one’s job. This makes it easier for team members to integrate into the organization’s structure fostering confidence in employees with respect to identifying their roles, expectations, and ways to get there. A highly visible set of instructions and processes enhances workflow driving better results.

3. It seeks to create efficient systems

The goal of bureaucratic leadership is to develop best practices. Many companies finish work in a specific method for a variety of reasons. That’s because project practices are framed to achieve goals in the quickest and cheapest manner without diminishing the quality of the end product. With these components in place, the results are consistent enough to be used to set budget expectations.

Examples of bureaucratic leadership


Bureaucratic leadership style has proven to be effective for extremely large organisations. McDonald’s follows a bureaucratic system wherein the crew members make minimal decisions on their own at lower levels rarely taking control. Due to its massive size, this is necessary for McDonald’s to streamline its processes and work at maximum efficiency. The organizational culture at McDonald’s aims to offer a standardized experience all across the globe with set objectives, tasks, kitchen and manufacturing processes, and time frames for the crew members. Processes are consolidated and regularized which trickles down to all outlets which work as one big standardized unit. Employees have to follow orders and do not have to be creative.  Due to its size and needs, bureaucratic leadership works very well for McDonald’s and helps the organization keep itself aligned to its goals. 

Shinji Sogo and Japan’s bullet trains

Shinji Sogo, the 4th president of the Japanese National Railways revolutionized what is today, one of the most efficient railway networks in the world. The efficiency of the project was a direct consequence of the efficient utilization of labor and resources. Sogo streamlined and standardized procedures under strict rules and regulations achieving a remarkable and otherwise framed unachievable engineering feat turning the dream of the bullet train into a reality realized and lived in Japan every day for decades now.

Over the past half-century, the top speed of the trains has risen from 210 km/h to 320 km/h and carries more than 1 million passengers per day. The train network has become vital for Japan and remains the best in the world. It also has an exemplary safety record with minimum casualties bearing testimony to the uncompromised work that goes into building, running, and maintaining this intricate network. 

1 Source: GreatLearning Blog

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