The Decay of Command-and-Control Leadership

Ted and I are big fans of Vineet Nayar’s leadership philosophy that places employees over customers. Central to this belief is turning the hierarchical pyramid upside down. At the top of the inverted pyramid are employees. Central to this seemingly radical move is the disbelief that management holds the answers to business problems or has the most wisdom to identify solutions.

Command-and-control is crumbling. Emerging is connect-and-collaborate.

Connect-and-collaborate is a 21st century tenet of leadership that drives leaders in this new era to partner with employees. This isn’t some group-hug, touchy-feely belief. This foundational leadership tenet builds on our human nature to make a difference in the places we live. And let’s be honest we spend enough time at work to qualify it as a place we live.

Assuming you’re still reading a logical question is, “How do I do this? How do I connect-and-collaborate with employees?”

First Step: See the Decay

First thing is to accept that in organizations command-and-control leadership is decaying. As a way of leading, it has little room in our uber-connected world where any information is available at the click of a few keys. We can find like-minded people any where who share our same values, ways of thinking, beliefs.

This point isn’t to create fear. It’s to point out that ideas spread faster than ever before. Good ideas are freely shared and the mystique of greatness isn’t beholden to notables any longer. In fact the playing field of great accomplishments has been leveled. Why would any employee with great talent suffer in a suffocating environment commandeered by controlling leaders?

Connect-and-collaborate is an emergent leadership style rooted in our human nature to find like-minded people and who do good together. Leverage this where you work.

Second Step: Create Meaning

Creating meaning is both a management and employee drive to instigate business success collaboratively.

Here are some in-the-trenches changes you can make with employees to create meaningful work.

1. Build on strengths.

Develop your employees’ talents by learning about their strengths. Then let them lose on work where they can apply them. This may mean challenging assumptions and company history on how work is assigned.

2. Shared strategic conversations.

Joint strategic planning conversations with management and employees brings diverse views of the company together. Employees hear daily what works, what doesn’t work, and even have workarounds to broken processes or outdated beliefs. Leverage these perspectives to create stronger strategic plans. Reduce the “what the hell were they thinking” when you rollout the updated plan.

3. Reach deep.

I recently interviewed Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct Canada. Peter is a New Era Leader who actively spends time with employees deep within his company. He holds regular brown bags for employees only. His goal? To learn what’s on employees’ minds. And then apply those ideas to improve the company. He works with the employees to make this happen. He also avoids limiting his interactions to solely his executive management team.

Let’s go back to meaningful work. Meaningful work is an outcome of connecting and collaborating with employees to make a difference in the workplace and for customers. It taps into our basic human nature to be part of something that makes a difference in the world and for others.

In this new era, leaders understand that controlling what people do, think and create is an illusory belief. It has no room in business in the 21st century.

Photo courtesy of  Claudio Matsuoka

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • Brilliant, as always. The command-and-control model has been in decay for some time. It’s part of a larger movement from single-stakeholder ownership towards multi-stakeholder ownership. The complicated bit is when one stakeholder group believes absolutely that it is in control, (e.g., shareholders), and that its rights come above all others. We’ll need to re-frame the role of financial institutions!

    It’s also part of the de-siloing of organizations. Now that we have discovered that silos are costly on many fronts we have started a move towards shared accountability. This means that the folks who live by command-and-control inside the silos, (e.g., unions), have to let go of their power and collaborate for the larger good.

    Still, humans also seem to live by the notion that an organization is full of people anxious to be told what to do (wish I could remember who said that). So, leaders have to give lots of thought to that, i.e., where do the make decisions and where do they delegate.

    Finally, another human trait, competitiveness, is a law of nature and it will not go away.

    So, the devolution of power is a difficult transition and some will resist.

    Incidentally, I think all of the above applies to a much bigger organization – our world.

  • I’ve been on my own for well over a decade so the actually work-place is a distant memory for me, happily. I was finding the PC rules to be stifling. For me, the sexual harassment seminars and all we NOW had to worry about were making work boring, as I had to watch EVERY word I said. I had jobs back in the day of secretaries…I had a bunch of ’em. After Anita Hill, I started hiring male secretaries. I just didn’t want the worry. Before Anita Hill, I had hired an ex-girlfriend as my secretary. It didn’t work out. We agreed and she left. Post Anita Hill, I would have been in a law-suit.

    Nonetheless, as I regularly read your excellent blogs, I so agree that caring for the employee before worry about the customer is wise. It really is a natural flow.

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