Command-and-Control Leadership – Does it Work?

Wed, 2011-10-12 10:30 -- tomjonez

There are a variety of styles that people use to accomplish objectives when leading teams of people – whether the teams are large or small.

Two styles, in particular, are worth a brief review.  These are essentially opposite styles, each with corresponding outcomes.  Due to space limitations, this week we will examine one of them: the “control” style of leadership.

Command-and-Control is a common and wide-spread approach to management. This was the primary leadership style of the 20th century and is based on the industrial age of the early part of the century as well as the military leadership influence of two world wars and subsequent regional conflicts.

This style was adopted because efficiency was created by repetitive action, teaching people to obey directives with little or no question and to resist change.  It seemed to work effectively in factories and particularly with assembly-line production environments.

The Command-and-Control style is clearly more autocratic (or authoritarian).  Managers who employ this approach prefer to make all the important decisions and to closely supervise and control workers.

While it can indeed be efficient, this style tends to communicate that leadership does not trust workers; instead, leaders simply give orders that they expect to be obeyed (one-way communication).  Further, this approach can communicate that the person in charge is the holder of superior wisdom, skill and experience, and that they know exactly what they are doing at all times.  Workers, on the other hand, are expected to simply do as they are told.

The control style has certain levels of efficiency and can be expedient.  At the same time, it generally devalues individual creativity and depresses internal motivation.  People act out of self-preservation and fear, instead of internal inspiration; they are generally not self-motivated or inspired to perform well. With this style it is also generally true that productivity, and certainly dignity and a sense of accomplishment, are lost in favor of tight control by leadership. 

This style also tends to emphasize the difference between management and workers and will usually lead to a company culture that results in a “we-they” climate - and the subsequent corresponding attitudes.

There is a time and place where command-and-control work well.  Examples include the emergency services such as police and fire-rescue agencies or the military.  In such life-critical settings, there isn't time for discussion among several people, action usually must occur without debate or delay.

What do you think? We are particularly interested in your feedback this week and next (we will examine an alternate leadership style next).