Bureaucratic Leadership: 7 Traits, Pros, Cons & When to Use

The bureaucratic leadership style ensures a hierarchical structure, a clear chain of command, rules, guides, and policies so team members follow a clear path to perform their duties. Amazon, Walmart, and Boeing are three examples of companies that apply bureaucratic leadership. 

📌 Hint: Do not skip this article, you will find FREE Leadership Training resources throughout the article.

💡 You might be interested in the 21 Leadership Skills Professionals Expect to See in the Workplace article.

What is Bureaucratic Leadership?

Bureaucratic leadership emerges from Max Weber’s bureaucracy theory. He described bureaucracy as a formal organizational system where an institution follows standard rules and procedures, has a defined level of the hierarchy, and where all decision-making powers rest with the top management.

Bureaucratic leaders follow the rules rigorously and ensure that their people follow procedures precisely. The leadership clarifies the way of working, rules, standards, and policies. Team members have to follow all of these when they are performing their work.

Bureaucratic leadership is more strict, has rigid borders, and is less flexible compared to other styles such as laissez-faire leadership, servant leadership, or participative leadership. You may consider other management approaches if it is suitable to your environment.

đź’ˇ Read 15 Types of Leadership article to learn about other leadership styles.

Bureaucratic Leadership vs Autocratic Leadership

Bureaucratic leadership style resembles autocratic leadership. Autocratic leadership, also known as authoritative leadership, is a leadership style where leaders or managers have full control and authority to make all decisions with limited input or participation from the team members or others. Autocratic leaders make decisions on their own using their intuition, experience, moral values, and insights. They take no input or limited input from the others.

Bureaucratic leadership is similar. Once the bureaucratic leader sets the rules, standards, and policies, team members follow them with minimum interaction with their leadership. If new cases or situations arise that are not defined by rules or standards, bureaucratic leaders launch new policies to cover new emerging situations. In this way, policies and the way of working standards of the organization evolve.

Enhance Your Leadership Skills – Executive Leadership Training Program

San Francisco Business School offers an online, self-paced comprehensive executive leadership training program. You can consider enrolling in this program to improve your leadership skills.

Bureaucratic Leadership Training Program

7 Traits of Bureaucratic Leadership Style

There are several characteristics and traits of the bureaucratic leadership style. We will go through the top 7 traits of bureaucratic leadership here.

1- Formal & Hierarchical Structure

Bureaucratic leadership, like authoritative leadership, requires a formal and hierarchical organizational structure. As the nature of the leadership style fosters rules, policies, and standards, these can be applied only under strong leadership. This is possible with a rigid hierarchical structure.

2- Rules, Standards, and Policies

Bureaucratic leadership requires rules, standards, and policies. So, the team members can follow them in their work with minimum or no support from other people.

Bureaucratic organizations, such as Amazon, Walmart, and Boeing, have a rich and comprehensive organizational knowledge base. Typically, employees find a resource on “how to do” a specific task if they do not know how to perform it. The organization also promotes contribution to these organizational repositories by awarding points or setting career goals in their performance to enrich the knowledge base.

3- Specialized Tasks

Bureaucratic leadership requires specialized and focused tasks. Bureaucratic organizations are not like lean organizations. For instance, in a lean organization, a marketing professional can also create content, or a software developer can test the product. However, in bureaucratic organizations, each task is specialized and performed by designated people.

Free Online Leadership Skills Training Program

One of the requirements to be a good leader is to improve yourself continuously. The best way to do this is, to enhance your competence through training. Take a step ahead and jumpstart your leadership competence. Enroll in our 1-hour Free Leadership Training program.

Free Bureaucratic Leadership Training Program

4- Impersonal

Bureaucratic leadership is impersonal. This means that in bureaucratic organizations, all individuals are equal and the best employees are the ones who follow the rules.

Since the way of working is defined through rules and standards, there is minimum interaction between team members. Team members have to look at guides and policies rather than consulting with a colleague or team member. This limits team building and participation.

5- Centralized Decision-Making

With bureaucratic leadership, decisions are made at the top level and applied through the chain of command. There is a top-down approach to this leadership style.

6- Clear Roles & Responsibilities

Bureaucratic leadership requires clear roles and responsibilities. Because the management relies on documents. To ensure this, there should be clear roles and responsibilities. You can use a RACI matrix to define who is responsible, accountable, consulted or informed for each task in the team.

7- Transactional

Bureaucratic leadership is considered as transactional. The transactional leadership style assumes that people do things for compensation, rewards, or any material outcomes. Therefore, transactional leaders focus on designing tasks around reward structures, such as promotions, bonus payments, etc.

Similarly, in bureaucratic leadership, people perform their tasks and the ones who follow the rules and standards are promoted.

Watch Laura’s 30 Seconds Experience – Executive Leadership Program

Hear from Our Alumni Laura Smith, Head of Design. Laura attended the Executive Leadership Program at SFBS.

YouTube player

When to Use Bureaucratic Leadership Style

A bureaucratic leadership style is appropriate for serious safety risks such as working with machinery, with toxic substances, at dangerous heights, or with large sums of money. Bureaucratic leadership is also useful for managing employees who perform routine tasks.

The bureaucratic leadership may sound repressive and old school. However, it is still popular and used as the best leadership style in many cases. Some of the organizations that may favor the bureaucratic leadership style are government agencies, the army, and security companies. Strict discipline, authority, and a clear chain of command are required in these types of organizations.

You may consider applying bureaucratic leadership in cases such as:

  • Large and complex organizations when a hierarchical organization is needed for efficient management.
  • When the work requires a high level of authority and predictability.
  • If the work requires adherence to rules and standards such as compliance with laws or regulations.

For instance, consider a Boeing employee working in the aviation system implementation. The work requires specialization, there must be clear rules and standards defining how the worker should enter the working area, what to do, and how to exit. Otherwise, there might be severe consequences of not following the rules.

When to Avoid Bureaucratic Leadership Style

Bureaucratic leadership style is much less effective in teams and organizations that rely on flexibility, creativity, or innovation. Bureaucratic leadership draws the border, or in other words, a playground for the people. There is not enough room for collaboration, participation, creativity and innovation.

If the nature of the work requires creative thinking, participation, and innovation, you should avoid a bureaucratic leadership style. Some example organizations or work environments that you should avoid this style can be:

  • Technology companies where innovation is required.
  • Creative agencies where creative thinking is required.
  • R&D Projects where new ideas and perspectives are needed.

Top 3 Benefits of Bureaucratic Leadership

There are several benefits of a bureaucratic leadership style. We will go through the top three here.

1- Bureaucratic Leadership Ensures Stability & Sustainability

Bureaucratic environments are stable most of the time. There are rules, documentation, and standards. People follow them. If there is any case where there is no documentation, a new one is prepared and published. The organization’s knowledge base is enriched this way to ensure sustainability.

Bureaucratic management style is stable in terms of job and career as well. People who adhere the the rules and standards are promoted. There is no favoritism, every person is equal in the organization.

2- Clear Roles & Responsibilities

Bureaucratic leadership requires sets clear roles & responsibilities. Everyone in the organization knows what to do, and how to do it and is accountable for their task. This ensures efficient and effective management for the team leadership.

3- Smooth Working Through Processes and Regulations

There are rich and comprehensive documents, guides, and policies in bureaucratic organizations. Therefore, people can work on their own without any help from other people. All you need to do is hire experienced professionals. They will know how to do their work, they will follow the documentation, and perform their tasks smoothly.

Top 3 Flaws of Bureaucratic Leadership

There are several flaws in a bureaucratic leadership style. We will go through the top three here.

1- Hinders Creativity and Innovation

Bureaucratic leadership is a style of managing through rules and standards. People cannot take any initiative for new ideas. This hinders creativity and innovation. Even if some individuals are talented and can propose better methods for the work, bureaucratic environments may limit the birth of these new ideas.

2- Bureaucratic Leadership Limits Personal Growth

As people cannot take any initiative, there is no or minimum collaboration between employees, and there is a top-down approach, people can find limited ways for their personal growth. People improve their skills with interaction, collaboration, teamwork, and taking initiative. These are not possible in a bureaucratic organization.

As people think their personal growth is limited, it may increase staff turnover. Motivational theorists support that hygiene factors, such as salary, compensation, benefits, etc, are important for people to some degree. People look for personal growth. If they feel that they are not important to the organization and they cannot grow their skills, they will look for other jobs.

3- Resists to Change

Situations, cases, scenarios, and a routine of work are defined in documents. People follow these and this gives them comfort in their jobs. When a new situation arises, people in bureaucratic environments are resistant to change. Because they worry that the way they will work is going to change.

Famous Bureaucratic Leaders

There are several bureaucratic leaders. We will go through three famous bureaucratic leaders in this article.

1- Steve Easterbrook

The former CEO of McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook, is accepted to be a bureaucratic pioneer. He effectively oversaw thousands of McDonald’s franchisees in completely different parts of the world with a bureaucratic fashion of administration. He took after an inflexible demonstration that required all franchisees to take after the standard rules and controls characterized by the administration. Steve Easterbrook is in our 12 Great Leaders list.

Bureaucratic leadership style has been demonstrated to be successful for huge organizations. McDonald’s takes after a bureaucratic framework wherein the team individuals make negligible choices on their claim at lower levels once in a while taking control. Due to its gigantic estimate, usually vital for McDonald’s to streamline its forms and work at the most extreme productivity.

The organizational culture at McDonald’s points to offering a standardized involvement all over the globe with set goals, errands, kitchens, fabricating forms, and time outlines for the group individuals. Forms are solidified and regularized which trickles down to all outlets which work as one huge standardized unit. Representatives need to take after orders and don’t have to be inventive. Due to its estimate and needs, bureaucratic authority works exceptionally well for McDonald’s and makes a difference in the organization keeping itself adjusted with its objectives.

2- Shinji Sogo

Shinji Sogo, the 4th president of the Japanese National Railroads revolutionized what is nowadays, one of the foremost efficient railroad systems in the world. The productivity of the venture was a coordinated result of the productive utilization of labor and assets. Sogo’s bureaucratic leadership streamlined and standardized methods beneath strict rules and controls accomplishing an exceptional and something else surrounded unachievable building accomplishment turning the dream of bullet preparation into a reality realized and lived in Japan each day for decades presently.

Over the past half-century, the beat speed of the trains has risen from 210 km/h to 320 km/h and carries more than 1 million travelers per day. The preparation network has become vital for Japan and remains the leading in the world. It too has an excellent security record with the least casualties bearing declaration to the uncompromised work that goes into building, running, and keeping up this perplexing organization.

3- Harold Sydney Geneen

Harold Geneen was the CEO of the International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) Corporation, an American company creating specialty components for the energy, aerospace, transportation, and industrial markets. Taking a top-down approach, Geneen exemplified bureaucratic management, growing the brand to be a billion-dollar company thanks to its strong systems and delineated employee roles.


Bureaucratic leadership is a management style that forces people to follow rules, standards, and policies. This leadership style is very similar to autocratic leadership where the leader makes a decision, and all members have to follow.

There are 7 common traits of bureaucratic leadership. The top three benefits of this leadership style are stability and sustainability, clear roles and responsibilities, and smooth working through processes and regulations. The top three flaws are limited creativity and innovation, limited personal growth, and resistance to change.

McDonald’s management under Steve Easterbrook’s management, Japanese National Railroads management under Shinji Sogo, and International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) Corporation’s management under Harold Geneen are examples of bureaucratic leadership.

See our Free Online Business Programs. No Credit Card Required.