In most organizations, a leader who manages in a command and control style is frowned upon and branded as an uncaring tyrant who doesn’t listen to people and doesn’t empower them.
While, people’s negative reaction to a top-down command and control leadership style is understandable and most often legitimate, there are times in which a command and control approach is the most appropriate and effective. In fact, at times it is necessary.
Take as an example the new CEO of a large global financial service organization. When he took the helm of his organization, he soon realized that he inherited a bigger mess than he anticipated.
The financial performance of the company had been on a downward trend for the past three years. Customers were losing confidence. Investors were becoming skeptical, and all this was reflecting badly on the stock price.
The internal picture was not any prettier. The culture of this firm was siloed and political. Regional, Global and Headquarter functions were not communicating and collaborating in a cohesive and effective way. There were cliques with different agendas, no one wanted to make the tough or selfless decisions and there was no sense or practice of holding anyone to account. Needless to say, things were steadily deteriorating.
The lack of agility and accountability started at the top. Many of the senior executives were nearing retirement, they felt entitled and cared mostly about self-preservation. As a result, there was no sense of real ownership, accountability or urgency to fix things and turn the company around.
The new CEO didn’t waste much time. He fired a whole bunch of senior leaders and replaced them with leaders who were ambitious and eager to succeed.
He took away most of the authority from senior managers and he insisted on being involved in all key decisions. Any executive that wanted to drive a project or strategy had to pass it by the CEO first, and any departure from that policy was treated with harsh consequences. People learned very quickly that with this CEO they had better ask for permission because if they don’t, they won’t get forgiveness.
Needless to say, people were upset and there was a lot of complaining. This CEO was definitely a shock to the system. But he didn’t really care about how people felt. He continued to single-handedly govern, control and drive the decisions and activities of his large global organization.
In the first year, the decline in performance slowed. In the second year, the company broke even and in the third year, they made a small profit, which was a major accomplishment.
The external winds started to shift. Customers were more satisfied, investors felt more optimistic and the employees started to notice too. They weren’t happy, but there was less complaining and morale was a bit higher.
Command and control is a very targeted management/leadership strategy. When applied appropriately and effectively it can help you turn things around. However, when you have succeeded to turn things around, you need to adjust your strategy from command and control to empowerment; to rebuilding trust, cohesion, and open communication. If you fail to do that your command and control methods that helped you achieve success could easily and quickly destroy it.
In Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, versus 1-8 there is a passage/poem that starts with:
“For everything there is a season and a time…”
Well, there is a time for empowerment and there is a time for command and control.
You just need to know when to empower and when to command and control and have the foresight and wisdom to know the difference.