Bureaucratic Leadership – Nu Leadership Series

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Mohandas Gandhi

Many wonder why contemporary organizations such as the federal government have not significantly improved over the past several years. Clearly, the government carries strong characteristics of a bureaucracy that it cannot escape. Some traditionalists would applaud this rigor and rigidity of such organizations because these organizations have strong stability.

Unfortunately, in a climate of uncertainty and constant change, these same organizations have strong weaknesses in a global, competitive environment. With over 17 years managing government projects, I’ve overseen large and small contractors in the federal system. Therefore, I fully understand the advantage of the federal system with all of its restrictions, limitations, and constraints.

Let’s review this closer. Weber, the founding theorist, favored a bureaucracy to transform a small organization into a large-scale organization. Bureaucracies afford the advantages of standardization and controls; they do not want change. Davis, author of Future Perfect, argues that today’s organizations are using previous organizational models that were good for the past but not adequate for future needs. Therefore, the external environment (technology, economy, culture, etc.) has a significant impact on organizations, including bureaucracies.

Authors Nadler and Tushman advocate that managers understand organizational design and be flexible to market changes; effective managers understand organization design is never ending. Some leaders have missed the importance of works in organization design. Furthermore, Handy, author of The Age of Unreason, argues that some leaders, hold decision to their vests. Decentralization is not in vogue. The federal government is designed around rigid structure and protocol. Thus, even good ideas are held captive by this bureaucratic configuration.

References:

Davis, S. (1996). Future Perfect. New York: Addison-Wesley.

Handy, C. (1990). The Age of Unreason. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Nadler, D. & Tushman, M. (1997). Competing by Design. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wren, D. (2005). The Evolution of Management Thought. Hooboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

© 2008 by Daryl D. Green