What Is Bureaucratic Leadership Style? Definition, How It Works, Its Advantages And Disadvantages

Mashum Mollah 25 August, 2022
bureaucratic leadership style

Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs – these are raised to the optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic administration.

Max Weber

What if a company was like a machine, and each and every component (read employee) was aware of their duties and reporting hierarchy? A company like this one can operate on its own and strictly adheres to some rules and regulations set by selected personnel. 

Yes, such companies exist; the leadership style they go by is called the bureaucratic leadership style. Sectors such as large factories and sizable corporations work well under such a leadership style. 

If you are curious, let me give you a clear insight into the bureaucratic leadership style, its characteristics, and some must-know advantages and disadvantages. This article is an illustrious guide to bureaucratic leadership style.


What Is Bureaucratic Leadership Style?

What Is Bureaucratic Leadership Style?

A bureaucratic leadership style is defined by a clear command chain where the employees have fixed official duties, and they have to follow rigid regulations under a hierarchy. Such leadership style follows principles such as – an Imperial position of the leader; authority bound to selected persons where the employees in a chain of hierarchy follow a specific chain of command.

Often mistaken for autocratic leadership, the bureaucratic leadership style may sound somewhat harsh to leaders and followers of the servant leadership style. However, irrespective of specific disadvantages, bureaucratic leadership has excelled in several industries throughout centuries, and it earns its own position in the arena of different types of leadership styles.

To enlighten the reader, I would like to inform that highly regulated industries, institutions, and even governments often follow a bureaucratic leadership style. Businesses that don’t demand much original or innovative work may profitably use a bureaucratic style of leadership.

To best exemplify this type of leadership, you can see the success of McDonald’s. The company was run under a bureaucratic style of leadership and is a global brand now. 

Background/History Of Bureaucratic Leadership Style

Background/History Of Bureaucratic Leadership Style

The history of bureaucratic leadership is rooted in the book of German Sociologist Max Weber. He is the one to coin the term in his book named The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, which came out in 1920. (Weber is also the proponent of transactional leadership.)

The structure of bureaucratic leadership stems from a management style prominent during the industrial revolution. It creates several job titles for employees under a clear and well-defined hierarchy. According to this hierarchy, employees had responsibilities and direct reports. Such model of leadership was usually followed in factories.

This leadership style was unnoticed for years. But numerous brands emerged and soared to the pinnacle of success, mounting on a bureaucratic leadership style. 

Following this sudden surge, the American sociologist George Ritzer elaborated on Weber’s definition of bureaucratic leadership style. He brought the term to the modern era and called it the “McDonaldization Of Society” in the title of his 1993 book of the same name. 

Indeed Ritzer used the term to exemplify the bureaucratic leadership style. The obvious reason behind it is its way of following a set structure of management where a large workforce works to build and define a brand under strict regulations and professional hierarchy. 

A bureaucratic leadership helps a brand proliferate, expand, and inherit its brand identity in more of a factory-type industry. 

Characteristics Of Bureaucratic Leadership

Weber, being born in the era of industrialization, had a first-hand observation of how large factories and big businesses came to be. According to him, the bureaucratic style of business management aims for maximum workforce efficiency. So, he based his theory on several defining characteristics of the bureaucratic leadership style that I have explained here-

1. Hierarchy Of Authority: Imperial Position

Max Weber

In a bureaucratic business structure, there is a chain of command that aligns employees in different job roles and responsibilities. The business also has defined expectations from different levels of authority. The leader in this leadership style also has somewhat imperial position. They are usually non-elected persons who implement the rules, ideas, and policies. 

2. Division Of Labor: Defined Job Roles

Madeleine M. Kunin

A bureaucratic business style puts the most specialized person into a specific job. The aim is to derive maximum efficiency. Such leadership focuses on putting the most appropriate person in a specific job role. The authorities at work are bounded to specialized roles in the job. 

3. Formal Selection: Focused On Skill & Specialization

James J. Corbett

Under such leadership, the employees are hired and selected very formally. A person can be hired based on their experience, performance, and adherence to the organization’s rules and regulations. The same outlines are followed for the procedure of firing an employee.

4. Career Orientation: Professionalism

Steven Pressfield

The workers can also have a long career in such an industry if they follow the regulations and remain consistent in their performance. Moreover, an employee’s professionalism is more valued in an industry under such a leadership style.

5. Rules & Regulations: Strict Rule-Driven Decision Making

Harry Day 

The operation of all work in an industry under a bureaucratic leadership style adheres to a specific set of rules. Some regulations and guidelines outline and direction for the day-to-day work process. Rules and regulations help maintain the chain of command in industries under such leadership.

6. Impersonality: No To Favoritism

Robert Whipple

One advantage of such leadership is its impartial way of seeing an employee. All the behaviors and conduct of an employee are regulated without any presence of favoritism. Employees are not seen on an individual level. The organization analyzes an employee based on their performance and their adherence to the pre-set rules. 

Bureaucratic Leadership Style: What’s Good…And What’s Not So Good?

There is a general consensus regarding this leadership style suggesting that it helped the western civilization to develop. However, some modern-day entrepreneurs find it outdated and inefficient. Here are some pros can con to better explain what is good about this style of leadership and what is not. 

The Benefits Of Bureaucratic Leadership Style: Pros

A company under such leadership usually aims for optimum efficiency through machine-like hard work. Perhaps you could relate to it from through this quote.

Colin Powell
  • Since an industry under such leadership focuses on adherence to rules and consistent performance, it tends to be more secure for employees seeking a long-term career. 
  • There is no room for favoritism under such a leadership style. 
  • Job roles, responsibilities, and expectations are clear and well defined. The chain of command and job hierarchies make all of it clear to employees and their reporting heads. 
  • The set of processes and regulations are highly visible under a bureaucratic leadership style. Also, the rules and regulations help maintain the working process and derive optimum efficiency for the employees. 
  • Task specialization furthers expertise the skills of employees working under defined job roles.

The Disadvantages Of Bureaucratic Leadership Style: Cons

Walter O'brien
  • There is a chain of command that might be disrupted at any moment, making the work process inefficient. 
  • Such leaders are more passive when it comes to encouraging employees personally. Hence the room for professional growth goes downhill. 
  • The employees must follow rules, procedures, and regulations previously set. This creates less capacity for creativity, free-thinking, and innovation. 
  • A chain of command is maintained in the such hierarchy through command, execution, and reporting. It hardly leaves any possibility for building a relationship or collaboration within the team. 
  • Employees often find it difficult to adjust to change since they are used to following pre-established regulations, and they are under strict orders to follow them. 
  • It is challenging to increase productivity under such leadership. 

Bureaucratic Leadership Style: Case Studies (Examples)

One of the famous bureaucrats in business was Harold Sydney Green ( CEO of IIT). He helped the business grow into a successful company following bureaucratic leadership. Winston Churchill and Collin Powell are some other names that come under this leadership. However, here are two bureaucratic leadership style examples that you need to know about–

Case Study 1: Steve Easterbrook Of McDonald’s

Steve Easterbrook Of McDonald's

When looking for an example of bureaucratic leadership in the business sector, the name of Steve Easterbrook shines bright. He became the CEO and the president of McDonald’s in 2015 and drastically doubled the company’s share price, saving it from the threat of decline. His bold combination of bureaucratic and charismatic leadership styles helped him achieve this feat.

The sociologist Ritzer coined the term Mcdonaldization in1993. But Estercook reminded it through a well-established franchising program with efficiency, calculability, standardized predictability, and overall control. However, the key factor behind the success and branding of McDonald’s remains in its robust bureaucratic structure.

Case Study 2: Shinji Sogo

Shinji Sogo

Shinji Sogo is another leader who followed the bureaucratic style of leadership. He is the 4th president of the JNR(Japanese National Railways). Before him, the “dangan ressha,” or the bullet train, was believed to be an ambitious project that was hard to achieve. But he made the dream project a reality.

There was a wide range of opposing ideas from within the company and the industry. His strict guidance, and efficient calculation, helped him get his idea approved by the government of Japan. He also got funding for the project and completed it with his strict guidance within time.

How To Become A Bureaucratic Leader?

As explained in the features, a bureaucratic leader needs more of an imperial personality and is strong-willed to carry out the command. As a leader of this style, your decisions follow the rules and regulations which follow through a chain of command. Here are some characteristics you can follow when developing a bureaucratic leadership skill.

1. Imperial Personality

Imperial Personality

A chain of command will only work if the person giving the command is strong enough to make it strict. An imperial personality is required so that you can make the following chain of authority stick to the regulations and procedures of running the business. 

2. Technical Expertise

The aim of such leadership is to derive maximum efficiency from the employees. So the leader is also nothing less when it comes to his/ her technical expertise. A leader following a bureaucratic style of leadership needs to have technical skills for managing and administering projects through a well-structured framework. 

3. Strong Mindset

Strong Mindset

Organizations under such leadership usually have a huge workforce to manage and maintain. That is why a leader needs to be strong-willed, stern, and fearless. Their dedication, unwavering and accurate decision-making, and streamlining of the chain of command makes them better bureaucratic leader. 

4. Hard Working

Hard Working

The bureaucratic leadership style follows its task through a regulated set of rules. Both employees and leaders sometimes have to carry out repetitive tasks. The level of quality and consistency of work also needs to be carried out perfectly. That is why a leader following such a style of leadership must be a hard worker. 

5. Impartiality


As a bureaucratic leader, one cannot give themselves into favoritism. Such leaders will always evaluate employees and followers based on their adherence to rules and their performance. Performance is more valuable to leaders like this than the individual contribution of employees. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Reading this article will help you understand all about this style of leadership. However, here are some additional questions and answers offering additional information about the same.

Q1. What Are The Advantages Of Bureaucratic Leadership Style?

The main advantage of a bureaucratic style of leadership is that it helps a business achieve the optimum level of efficiency through strict rules and regulations. Defined job roles make work simpler and more perfect. Also, employees in the such industry tend to have stronger job security.

Q2. What Is Bureaucratic Leadership In Simple Words?

In simple words, a bureaucratic style of leadership follows a rigid structure within an organization to enact efficiently through calculable decisions. The company runs like a machine under such leadership since the employees are aware of their job roles and hierarchy.

Q3. What Is The Difference Between Bureaucratic And Autocratic?

Autocratic leadership follows a leader who is responsible for making and implementing all the rules. He controls his subordinates to the maximum extent. On the other hand, bureaucratic leadership is about following norms, rules, and regulations rather than an imperial leader. There is a main difference between bureaucratic leadership and autocratic leadership.

Is Bureaucratic Leadership Effective?

Bureaucracy as an idea has many negative words coming from great figures. Even Albert Einstein says-


However, as a leadership style, the Bureaucratic leadership style has its advantages. Factory-type businesses are examples of that.

Harold Sydney Geneen, Shinji Sogo, and even Winston Churchill have set some of the best implementations of this leadership style. However, the more modern industries and workplaces may find this leadership style ineffective or hard to work with.

Did you find this article helpful? We would like your feedback on this leadership style. Also, if you have any queries, we will also try to answer them if you reach out to us in the comment.

Read Also:

4 1 vote
Article Rating

Mashum Mollah

Mashum Mollah is a tech entrepreneur by profession and passionate blogger by heart. He is on a mission to help small businesses grow online. He shares his journey, insights, and experiences in this blog. If you are an entrepreneur, digital marketing professional, or simply an info-holic, then this blog is for you.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x