The administrative leadership style is based on the power vested in rules and policies. It is based on eficiency – on rapid, low-cost decision making. Under the authoritarian style, the individual leader is the instrument that exercises power; in the administrative style, the instruments are organization's rules, policies, and norms, which are in the hands of the administrator leader.
During our discussion of the authoritarian style, I commented on the common bias against the word “power.” Here, in talking about the administrative style, the common bias today is often against “rules.” Many people reject a leader who believes that rules are a legitimate basis for leading. Yet we see rules being applied everywhere, and legitimately so.
Man is born free, yet is everywhere in chains. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Our lives are often regulated by rules – by speed limits, tax rates, ofice hours, and so on. All of these rules have been established by leaders and accepted by society. Indeed, rules can bring out the best in people. Tight budgets often make people more creative when it comes to changing things, cutting costs, and getting positive results.
Another characteristic of the administrative style is that it tends to subject people to strict controls. The administrator-type leader believes in carefully thought out rules and policies and is inclined to set rigid standards and measures to control her followers' actions. Such a leader inluences people to carry out their work in precise, speciic ways, believing that this will ensure reliable and precise results.
A good example of a situation where a pure administrative style would be appropriate is when hazardous chemicals are being handled. Clearly, the leader will want to inluence people to accept carefully crafted rules and procedures and to implement them to the letter. Generally, safety policies require strong rules and procedures.
The archetypical administrator leader will have people and followers in the organization who are highly competent functionally. This is necessary because the instruments this leader applies – rules and policies – are bureaucratic by deinition. The implementation of strategic direction is driven by the need for precision at all times. A controlled environment is expected to result in controlled success. It follows that an administrator leader has little tolerance for followers who do not meet their goals and objectives. There is little room in such a regime for learning from mistakes – for developing a learning culture based on experience. This is very similar to the authoritarian culture, though it results from a very different leadership style. In one case, the leader is always correct because of his competence; in the other, the leader is always correct because his behaviour relects an unbreakable rule or policy.
Whenever possible, an administrator leader makes decisions based on history or precedent. Again, this is very different from the authoritarian approach, where the leader makes decisions based solely on his individual assessment at that moment.
In an administrator leader's organization, the change process is highly eficient – from organizational values to strategic direction to the setting of goals and objectives to implementation. Eficient in this case means
rapid, precise, and low-cost. All of this eficiency is possible because of rules and policies that ensure there is little or no discussion or teamwork. It is possible also because the people in the organization are highly competent functionally. Such organizations have little need for the sort of people who thrive on interfunctional discussions about a better way forward. An administrative leader expects the organization to execute strategy and get results through hand-offs from one competent functional group to the next.
In an organization headed by an administrator leader, the change process is not highly innovative: there is little emphasis on seeking new ways to do things, and there isn't much consideration of paths forward. Instead, direction is sourced from well-travelled historical paths – from precedents or policies. If a precedent is found to be lawed during implementation, a new direction will be sought. But once that new and better direction has been found, the organization's highly competent people will make a strong effort to determine why the new direction is better and devise new rules and policies to relect the reasons they found. Innovation is given little credit for success; instead, that success is ascribed to improvements in a policy that was originally lawed.
The administrator leader teaches and communicates knowledge – sometimes called rules and principles – and asks people to follow those rules and principles to achieve change. An example of an administrator leader would be a leader-engineer of a large team of highly trained technicians manufacturing hazardous materials, such as explosives or toxic chemicals.