We tend to structure around the leader as the commander in chief, using a command and control approach. A command and control leadership approach is based on models from the military, where top generals develop strategy, the officers translate the strategy into action plans and soldier’s execute. This leadership approach – over the years – was adopted by business to help improve and control productivity. We created a corporate hierarchy of reporting lines and allocated specific roles and responsibilities. This hierarchy is then controlled and managed by a powerful top executive. The emphasis is on exerting control over the enterprise through the tools of hierarchical structures and process. Hierarchy is typically applied when one would rather have control as opposed to leadership. Much of the management discipline that we have developed over the past few decades concerns itself with exercising control in this way.
“Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led.” – Warren Bennis
In command and control environment the ability to take orders and get them executed is valued. Those who follow orders are the ones who get rewarded, promoted and move up the “chain of command”. When there is conflict or uncertainty as what action is required these issues are escalated upward for resolution. This management style still exists in many enterprises today and creates enterprises that are over-managed and under-led.
Challenges With a Command and Control Approach
There are a number of challenges and limitations that come with a command and control leadership approach:
- People don’t response well to being managed.
- Employees wait for direction from top management before making decisions and taking action.
- People assume that the leaders at the top know best.
- Results in compliance rather than commitment from people in the enterprise.
- Fear and ego gets in the way of developing authentic relationships.
- People are confined to contribute within the narrow confines of their role and job descriptions.
- Slow down in decision making and the flow of information as escalation replaces initiative.
- Leaders responsible for setting strategy and making decisions are too far removed from the customer.
- Inhibits effective communication across, up and down the enterprise hierarchy.
One of the reasons for the increase in leadership failure across society is how we structure the role of the leader in our enterprises. We’ve made excessive use of control, rather than leading by inspiring the heads, hearts and hands of the people.
But… The World Has Changed
The interconnected, interdependent and networked economy of today demands less control, increased collaboration and more effective leadership. This demands an enterprise with less structure, good enough process, less silos and reduced management control. To compensate for less management enterprises will need stronger social structures and this requires effective leadership at all levels.
As the world around us changes we tend to rely on what worked in the past as our default approach to navigating the future. Organisations are full of control processes and procedures that restrict employees and make change slow and difficult. The reality is we cannot control people with these systems. We have to lead them with vision, inspiration and relationship.
We need to move away from a focus on process and structure, towards more emphasis on leadership, relationships and culture. This kind of enterprise is built more on leadership and less on management. We have over used a hierarchical approach to get things done in our enterprises. It keeps change at bay and reenforces the status quo and squashes innovation and change. We need to move more towards a collaborative leadership approach.
- Is your enterprise over-managed and under-led?
- Are you moving away from a command-and-control approach?