Command and Control is a Good Thing | Jesse Fewell

Command and Control is a Good Thing

By February 8, 2019Blog

That’s right Command and Control is a good thing!

Command and Control – that’s what I want to talk about today. This term that agile people or anybody floating around in management circles these days about command and control is a negative leadership style. Well, isn’t that lovely? That’s not what it’s meant to mean. Not what it was meant to mean. Command and control refers to an organizational capability, an organizational competency. Comes out of the military term, the military in space, the military sector. And it’s intended to describe some very important things. So first, let me give you the positive example.

This is a leadership book that you’ve got to checkout. Talks about a navy submarine commander Dave Marquet, who turned around his submarine from worst in the fleet to best in the fleet in the matter of just a couple of years because he was the commander. We need a leader. We need a visionary. We need somebody who’s got a definition of what success looks like. Who’s our Steve Jobs, who’s our Jeff Bezos, who’s going to be the one that moves us forward. Now in scrum, that’s called the product owner, in extreme programming we call it the on-site customer. And so in an agile conversation that’s well accepted. In fact, it’s agreed upon that it’s necessary to have a commander, a visionary, someone who takes us where we’re going. Furthermore, in the book, he describes shifting the old style of leadership to a new style of leadership, he doesn’t call it command control.

He calls it the leader-follower model that he wants to replace with the leader-leader model where we tap into the talent of our people, our teams and delegate more control and initiative to where it is. And in that book he said that the key to giving teams more control in their work was in approving vacation time. That’s fascinating how that one little thing turned into a pivot, an inflection point in the organization, the submarine, about 100 people to make it all go right.

Now, the reason this drives me crazy is because it’s become a sloppy term to describe negative leadership. Agile people like to make up words. Well, the word agile didn’t exist before 2001 until all of these lightweight process advocates came together and came up with some core principles. Also fun fact – word waterfall didn’t exist – certainly not in the waterfall paper by Winston Wright, until agile came along and needed to give a name to the enemy. So “you do work I don’t like it” – that’s waterfall. Likewise, command and control people are using this term, this military competency, organizational competency of who’s our commander and how is our organization under control. Modern organizations, progressive organizations are controlled based on self-organization principles, marching towards a commander’s intent.

If you really want to talk about bad leadership, I recommend that you use better language.

I recommend something like The Leadership Circle Profile, which describes specific competencies that we need from our leaders as well as reactive tendencies. And so here’s what the leadership circle looks like. And if you were to take a 360, it would plot how people perceive your effectiveness because leadership perceived is leadership achieved and versus how you tend to view yourself.

And so you might wanted to have a conversation about not command and control, but:

Are you arrogant? How does that play out?

Are you too ambitious and driven and people can’t keep up with you? And it’s never good enough? Are you a perfectionist?

Are you task oriented or maybe on the relational side you don’t score very well at all? You’re not very much a selfless leader. You’re not very much in balance and keeping composure under stress.

And so these are much better terms to describe positive leadership styles and behaviors as opposed to negative leadership styles and behaviors. And Dave Marquette in his book, he uses the contrasting term leader followers – the old way – I’m the center of gravity and every one orbits around me – versus the leader leader model where we are an ecosystem and network of competent, capable decision makers towards the commander’s vision, the leader’s intent.

Hopefully you can start using more precise terminology to describe what you want out of your leaders so that you don’t just go waving a hand with blanket judgment statements like “you’re a Command and control leader, you’re obviously old school”. Okay, that’s not helpful. If you’re going to have a crucial conversation, use better terminology. I like this, I use it, you might try it.

 

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