I never thought I’d say those words. Being a former commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, command and control were integral to my success. The ability to stand on the rank and position I held helped direct troop movement and engagement.
Fortunately for most of those in my command, I always commanded from more of a servant leader’s heart and mind but applied the benefits of command and control to be sure my units delivered results. If a soldier ever decided to not engage in the activity of the day, there was a specific discipline that happened. There was no ‘touchy-feely’ about it. The touch and feel was a proverbial boot in the seat of the pants administered by a more than willing sergeant who had access to the soldier’s whole life.
Honestly, speaking from a pure leadership perspective, there were parts of that experience that didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps that is why I opted to resign my commission when my service obligation time was up. Please hear me correctly though. I fully admire, respect, and support our military. I did then. I still do today. I’m just saying that there were aspects of command and control I witnessed and at times was subjected to that made it hard to get through the day. Fortunately, most days were not that way.
Back to the point of this article.
It is my humble opinion that command and control no longer have a meaningful place in today’s business world as a ‘leadership style.’ Too many things have changed with the way we do work and the way people view their lives as employees.
Expectations between employer and employee have changed. There are very few instances where an absolute need for direct command and control is required.
Yes, there are moments throughout the day when someone needs the final say. If I am under a knife with a surgeon in an operating room, I hope he/she is very directive with the team in the OR. I don’t want any collaborative think-tank discussions going on. I want my person to be certain about the steps in the procedure.
Apart from those critical decision moments, the work world is just not that precise. Moreso the new revolution in the workforce has demanded a shift away from command and control. Employees are no longer willing to subject themselves to demanding bosses who pound their fists on the table and beat their chest to get things done. Is that too dramatic? I think not. There really are still some bosses out there trying to operate that way.
It has to stop.
Changing a Leopard’s Spots
The old saying goes like this “You can’t change a leopard’s spots.” That may be true. But when you get promoted into a role formerly held by an old-school tyrant, you don’t have to carry on the tradition. You need to be very clear on the opportunity to change the tone and tenor of the office from old to new.
I was once coaching a 25-year veteran senior executive. I was asking him how things normally went between him and the plant managers who reported to him. If something bad happened at a plant, the local manager was expected to call this executive. My client admitted that the first 5 minutes of such a call was a traditional chewing of someone’s backside.
I asked why? Why did it have to be that way? The honest answer was “that’s the way it’s always been.”
I had my client think back on the days when he was a plant manager. Was getting his butt chewed by the boss helpful in any way? He said “…no, never.”
Again, I asked, why? What if you tried coaching in the moment instead? Empathize. Listen. He agreed to try that.
Within months, plant managers were going out of their way to let corporate HR know the senior executive had done a 180. His counsel and advice were now welcomed and encouraged. He became a sought after source of knowledge and learning rather than demeaning criticality.
It can be done.
The Worst Impact
There are many reasons for backing off from command and control. But the biggest issue is the negative impact it has on trust in the workplace. Employees are looking for psychological safety at work. They want a place to feel safe and unthreatened.
Applying constant pressure from the need for control has a tendency to undermine the very thing you want from your team, high performance.
People simply do not perform at their best when they feel any kind of threat. It becomes a fight-or-flight mindset. What good leader wants that?
Making the Change
If you are prone to follow a command and control leadership framework, get some outside help to change your leadership. We just don’t need that in the world anymore.