Command, Control and Authority

I think we can agree that there are a number of leadership styles but the one we love to hate is the Command and Control style.

I once had a boss who was the epitome of command and control, 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 clipboard 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 Mecca to which everyone bows.  And the rest of us simply do as we are told.

Except we don’t.

In fact, while we are doing as we are told, we are also finding ways to quietly sabotage progress.  We waste time grumbling.  We call in sick when we are just too fed up to go in. 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, dignity, a sense of accomplishment, and of purpose, are lost.

So no, command and control in a business or organizational environment is not a leadership style that  serves us any more… at least not in large doses.

Having said that there are situations that will call for an authoritative approach to leadership. For example:

  • In times of revolutionary change when the future feels doubtful, this take-charge style is needed, and often appreciated, to help people over the hump of uncertainty.
  • When under tight deadlines or in crises, there often just isn’t time for lengthy debate or consensus building.
  • When the leader has more knowledge around a certain issue and it just makes sense for him or her to make a decision for everyone.
  • When the organization has drifted from its purpose or lost sight of its vision a strong authoritative presence is required to recalibrate organizational focus.

So, in short, while we love to hate command and control, we would be wise to allow that there are times when authoritative leadership is necessary.  The trouble is, if not used well, it can easily morph into something that fails to serve the organization or the greater good.  So, like the delicate balance of a perfect stew, the application of control and authority must be carefully measured and administered to render it both useful and palatable.

What do you think?



Filed under Leadership, Leadership Style, Leadership Values, Organizational Effectiveness

9 responses to “Command, Control and Authority

  1. This is a very interesting topic. It happens a lot that people stand on the mountain top, talking about how much they hate Theory X type management style, but at the same time, there are teams and times that call for it, almost as a necessity. Check out where I go into this topic along a slightly different thread. It’s quite a quandary.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Steve~ Thank you for pointing me to your blog post. It is a very thorough outline of the characteristics of Theory X management and one that is also painfully familiar to me.
      Theory X, in my view, is a management attitude and philosophy that has no place in the 21st Century. I really think there’s a difference between using this kind of management behaviour as a club of submission and exercising authority at times when it is required as a service to the organization, its people, and its purpose.
      Unfortunately, there are those who lump the two together and so are loathe to apply their authority when it is most needed or conversely, apply it without thought or as an ongoing and convenient weapon of choice.
      Thanks for bringing more food for thought here.

  2. Great point Gwyn – taking charge is sometimes necessary, welcomed and even expected. As long as it is a tool in your toolkit – ff all you have is a “hammer” everything looks like a “nail”!

  3. Dear Gwyn! The more the merrier to drive the change in old fashioned leadership style and bury the authoritative one. Funnily enough, I am finalizing a post on authoritative leadership!
    Though I have never faced such a strong case like the boss you describe, I truly think that by generally accepting authoritative style (both as managers and employees) we shoot in our own foot. Unfortunately, in some corporate cultures and also some countries, this style is still too common and considered normal.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Sahar ~ You make a great point and that is, as long as people are willing to accept dysfunctional leadership behaviour from others, such behaviour will continue to prevail. To me, authority should not be a “dirty word”. Unfortunately I think we have made it that way by equating it with the image of the controlling, bullying, disrespectful boss that we all love to hate. Thank you for adding your voice to this discussion. It’s a pleasure to “meet” you 🙂

  4. I think that in leadership (as in parenting), people are respected when they have to take control if they’ve not wielded excessive control when it hasn’t been necessary.

    I think what you say about the myriad ways people sabotage authority when it’s not respected is very true. A story my mother told me when I was young about a boss who was appreciative of her work, and for whom she would have “bent over backwards” to do good work, has always stuck with me.

    Fortunately, I have that kind of boss now.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Leslie ~ Yes when you look at it that way, it seems so simple doesn’t it? Acknowledgement and appreciation are key to motivating us to do our best work. Under those conditions and when appropriate, we are also usually happy to do as we are told.
      Thanks for adding that. And, by the way I’m very glad that you have that kind of boss now. It makes life so much more pleasant 🙂

  5. Pingback: Command, Control and Authority | digitalNow |

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