Monday, April 15, 2024

Mintzberg crtiticisms of leadership theory

Henry Mintzberg is an academic at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. His work on management includes the study of managerial roles, strategy formation, and organisational structures. He is highly critical of contemporary theories around Management and Leadership.


In The Structuring of Organizations (1979) he presents a comprehensive framework for the complexities of organisational structure and categorises the structures of organisations into five main types:

1. Simple Structure

A low degree of departmentalisation, wide spans of control, centralised authority, and little formalisation. It is flexible and fast to respond to changes because it has a simple reporting structure and an informal way of operating. This could be a small startup with a few employees where the founder makes all the major decisions and management is handled informally.

2. Machine Bureaucracy

This structure is typified by a high degree of formalisation and centralisation, with tasks and roles clearly defined through a hierarchical structure. It is efficient for routine tasks and stable environments. For example, a large manufacturing company with assembly lines, such as the Ford Motor Company in the early 20th century, would be a classic example of a machine bureaucracy.

3.Professional Bureaucracy

This operates with a high degree of autonomy for professionals within the organisation. It relies on highly trained professionals who demand control over their own work. This could be a hospital, where doctors, nurses, and medical staff have specialised expertise and operate with a certain level of autonomy in their respective areas of professional practice.

4. Divisionalized Form

This type of structure occurs in large corporations that operate under multiple divisions. Each division acts as its own company, with its own set of operational functions like finance, marketing, R&D, etc. For example, General Electric, which had numerous divisions each focused on different product lines like aviation, power, healthcare, and renewable energy.

5. Adhocracy

A flexible, adaptable, and informal organisational structure that emphasises innovation and creativity. This structure is common in dynamic, complex environments where the ability to respond quickly to changes is crucial. Could be tech companies like Google, known for their innovative culture, where employees are encouraged to work on projects they are passionate about, and hierarchies are less pronounced. He discusses how these different structures correspond to different types of organisational structures that need different strategies.

Management v Leadership

Organisational complexity led him to write in Managers Not MBAs (2004) where he criticises traditional MBA programs for producing graduates with a misleading view of management and responsibilities. He criticised MBA Programs for overemphasising quantitative and abstract aspects of management, at the expense of experience and insight into organisational dynamics. As organisations are complex, with very different structures and problems, management training, he believed, should be rooted in real-world experience that develops managers who understand these complexities and the role of leadership within them.

He criticised the separation made between 'management' and 'leadership', as he thought they were intertwined. Managers need to be leaders, and effective leaders need to understand management. Neither did he agree with Leadership theories and courses that promote Leadership traits.

What was more important was a holistic and engaged form of management, where managers were wholly involved and immersed in the operations of their organisations, getting to grips with the detail and dynamics, especially of people.


He also promoted the idea of Communityship over leadership. Leadership is exaggerated and puts people on a pedestal, when a healthier, less hierarchical and more communal attitude is necessary. 


His five category models is seen by some as too rigid and doesn't sufficiently account for the rapidly changing nature of contemporary organisations. The model can potentially oversimplify complex organisational dynamics and interactions. There vis also a sense of his work being rooted in the machine and manufacturing age.


Mintzberg, H., 2004. Managers not MBSs. Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Mintzberg, H. (1979). The structuring of organizations. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall. 

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