On Leadership and Bureaucracy


The Anathema of Bureaucracy: Dealing with its Fate & On Embracing its Inverse

According to Wikipedia, the word “bureaucracy” is clearly defined as this:

bu·reauc·ra·cy /byʊ rɒk rə si/

“The collective organizational structure, procedures, protocols and set of regulations in place to manage activity, usually in large  organizations and government.”

In other words, it’s a frustrating, rigid, process driven, and snail-paced institution. This shouldn’t exist in democratic countries and ought to be controlled by developing nations if they are to effortlessly succeed.

Not doing so, bureaucracy will become increasingly self-serving, complacent, and breed corruption rather than properly serve society as its intention.

Compare and Contrast

In the private sector, if people don’t work productively, their businesses will go bankrupt. But, in the public sector, seniority trumps performance regardless of employee efficiency or lack thereof.

Faceless BureacracyCompetence in an organization is directly linked with its organizational system. In bureaucracy the hierarchy is typically overy complex with many levels providing a highly differentiated structure of authority.

The faceless bureaucracy also exists in the private sector. Employees there get frustrated when they can’t perform their work in a wholesome way because of restrictive yet superfluous rules set by their organization. Add to that corporate politics and it’s not hard to see why there are high levels of employee exodus/turnover due to their  discontent.

There are organizations which thrive on their ability to allow individuals to remain faceless. It permits them to act badly which is not in the best interest of their customers.

Bureaucracy in Action (or rather… “Inaction”)

When it comes to shipping packages, I despise doing so at the post office because every time I go, their employees look for a reason not to ship my package.

I hear either “Too much tape!” or “Not enough tape!”

On the other hand, I really enjoy bring my packages to FedEx or The UPS store. The folks there have a totally different approach as they’re not looking for  a reason to say “no” but rather for an opportunity to say “yes.”

“Here’s  some tape, we’ll just add it right here…”

The obvious reason for the difference in treatment to the customer is that  the person at the post office has no incentive to make a sale. He/she knows that whether I’m well served or not this person will still collect  his/her paycheck, benefits and keep their job, likely until retirement age.

If a company or government institution is in the service domain, then its people should look for ways to say “yes” at every interaction, provided they are not doing anything illegal or losing substantial amounts of money for their employer.

Embrace Change, Not Be Paralyzed By It

Organizations with a large bureaucracy struggle making fast decisions. Bureaucracy creates a climate in which the customer is not as important as the management and the company’s other employees. It also kills the organization’s competitive spirit.

As Jack Welch, former CEO of the industrial powerhouse, GE, has stated this:

Bureaucracy is the enemy – it means waste, slow decision-making and unnecessary approvals.”

Welch felt that ridding the company of wasteful bureaucracy was everyone’s job. He urged all his employees to fight it. “Disdaining bureaucracy” became an important part of GE’s shared values.

At Google, the role of the manager is that of an aggregator of viewpoints, not the dictator of decisions.

Creative Solutions

For an organization to avoid the complacency and bureaucratic trap, it should encourage creative thinking, consider making innovation its foundation, as well as cut-out layers of the its bloated management structure for a leaner decision-making process. Innovation is what a business should be carrying-out as often as it’s required for its long-term existence.

in·no·va·tion noun \ˌi-nə-ˈvā-shən\

The term “innovation” is widely described as: “Leading to significant organizational improvements in relation to enhanced or new business products, services, or internal processes.”

This involves acting on creative ideas to make some specific and tangible difference in the domain in which the innovation occurs. The old adage that goes something like “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” is a model which doesn’t sit well today with forward -thinking companies that thrive on practical improvements.

Nothing wrong with change if done to enhance or replace the status quo. It’s part of collective progress.

For this to work everyone, from the top brass down to the low labor employee, must embrace continuous change, and not resist it. That may be easier said than done due to typical resistance emerging from people due to fear of the unknown. It should be up to management to persuade their subordinates of the mutual benefits of change.

Creating an Adhocracy

The following are five recommendations for managing creative employees.

1. Accommodate:

Have an open door policy and offer an element of flexibility with employee schedules

2. Stimulate:

Encourage creative thinking not simply with words but also with rewards

3. Recognize:

Reward with greater autonomy and praise in front of peers

4. Direct lightly:

Avoid micromanaging and offer feedback

5. Progressive environment:

Avert unnecessarily restrictive rules and bureaucracy within the organization

Organizational Greenhouse: Adhocracy as the accepted wisdom for organizations to flourish

Author and expert on management issues, Robert H. Waterman, Jr., defines adhocracy as “any form of organization that cuts across normal bureaucratic lines to capture opportunities, solve problems, and get results.” For Henry Mintzberg, a management guru, an adhocracy is a complex and dynamic organizational form.

An adhocracy is different from bureaucracy and considers bureaucracy a thing of the past. Mintzberg considers an adhocracy  a thing of the future since it’s very good at problem solving and innovations and it thrives in a changing environment.

That said, a company that works under a bureaucracy is very structured in its rules and hierarchy with mediocrity prevailing. Everyone knows their specific role, they specialize in that role, and know nothing, or very little, about the roles of their co-workers.

On the other hand, a company that functions as an adhocracy experiences an organic structure where hierarchy barely exists. As a result, all members of such an organization have the authority to make decisions and to take actions affecting its future.

So how would you describe the type of environment where you work? How are you contributing to its structural support? Are you more apt to gravitate toward a bureacratic approach or to a more adhocracy? Which doe you feel furthers organizational health? I would love to hear your thoughts!

James D. Roumeliotis is Marketing & Entrepreneurial Advisor at Affluence Marketing
He helps clients increase client market presence, profile and bottom line performance
Email | LinkedIn | Web |Blog

Image Sources: infocom.elsewhere.org, us.cdn3.123rf.com,

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One response to “On Leadership and Bureaucracy

  1. Jim, excellent blog. Living 45 minutes from Madison, WI, I feel this should be sent to the 14 Democratic Senators that are hiding out in Illinois to help them understand why Gov. Walker is standing fast to cutting through the red tape of the state unions to help reign in all the unnecessary spending that goes on in this state.

    I have worked for both types of companies. I’d like to think I currently work for an organization that is an adhocracy.

    Mark Fryer


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