Leadership Style Part II – Command & Control

There are quite a few styles of leadership but the Command and Control style is the one we love to hate so I’m giving it some particular attention.

I once had a boss who was the epitome of the command and control style, a real “my way or the highway” kind of guy.  He was a stickler for punctuality and his need for control was so strong that he posted one of his managers at the elevators each morning armed with a clip board and orders to write down the names of all those unsuspecting stragglers who deigned to arrive past the expected starting time.

One morning I peered over the shoulder of one of these hapless managers only to see that, having caught someone alighting from the elevator at 9:02 a.m., he had written, “girl with red hair and green sweater”

I asked him how he expected to create anything that the boss would find useful if he didn’t know the names of the people he was there to “catch”.  He said,

“I have no *f*&$#$%^ idea.  I’m just doing what I’m told”

That is a classic consequence of creating and working in a command and control culture.  It assumes that the person in charge is the holder of all wisdom, skill and experience; a person who knows exactly what they are doing at all times.  And the rest of us simply do as we are told.

Except we don’t.

While we are doing as we are told, we find ways to quietly sabotage progress.  We waste time grumbling.  We arrive on time but then do nothing for the first hour.  We spend time dreaming up other ways to get around the stringent rules set out for us; and somewhere in all of that, productivity, and certainly dignity, and a sense of accomplishment are lost.  Not a pretty picture.

Then again,  there may be times when an authoritative style of leadership is called for.  In times of revolutionary change when things are doubtful, this take charge style is often appreciated if only to get us over the hump of uncertainty; until we can find our own ground again. In times of upheaval, it is an authoritative leader who will ensure the reformation of a structure within which we can continue to work and contribute.  Sometimes there just isn’t time for lengthy debate or consensus building.  Sometimes we just want someone to make a decision and tell us what to do.

So, while the command and control style of leadership is not de rigueur in most workplaces (and for good reason), perhaps it is unwise to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

What say you?

Something to watch: Here’s a clip of Barack Obama using an authoritative style as he sets the tone for his administration.

Something to think about:  When do you go into command and control mode?  Is it planned or does it come over you? How might you use this style to its best advantage?



Filed under Leadership Style

4 responses to “Leadership Style Part II – Command & Control

  1. Perhaps we need to distinguish between taking charge and taking control. I think it has a lot to do with your context as a leader. If your context for leading is one of command and control there are few places you can succeed in today’s world (my belief anyway). But if we don’t take charge when that is what is needed because we are worried about being seen as a command and control leader we will end up losing respect.

  2. prissyperfection

    Yup. I think you CAN be authoritative without being controlling. It is a fine and delicate distinction but an important one.

    Thanks for your usual insightful comments Susan!

  3. Graeme Burk

    I meant to thank you for this post, Gwyn. I just concluded a job with precisely that type of person as an ED. It was a miserable experience and my observations from the experience were two-fold:

    1) Good leadership means listening to others. Command and control types don’t do that.

    2) Everyone wants to feel like they contribute to their workplace somehow– command and control leaders take that feeling away, leaving you to feel like the only person who can contribute is the command and control type.

    I agree that there is a place for taking charge and being authoritative. I had one boss who was great at that. Consultative and collaborative, they knew also when to jump in and be firm. I appreciated they had the wisdom to know when to do that.

    Thanks again.

  4. prissyperfection

    I’m glad the post had some meaning for you Graeme. Thanks for your comments. Your experience is precisely what can happen when a “my way or the highway” type of boss runs rampant.
    The consequence for your former employer is that you now have taken your skills and your special kind of brilliance with you. Their loss.
    Thanks for stopping by. Hope you come again.

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