“Command and Control” is not about being “Commanding” and “Controlling”


It’s a fairly common confusion; and like most confusions in the workplace, the confusion stems from our interpretations. The problem here lies not in the words themselves but how most people interpret them. It’s easy to do, they are both verbs, right? Nope, not in this case. “Command and Control” is a noun and the two are meant to be used together to name a leadership model, not to describe behavior. This is a huge confusion that most people make and it creates poor leadership. So what does it mean?

Like many leadership systems, “Command and Control”, originated in military study and practice. This association can further exacerbate the confusion for the general population. Most people who hear it or think of the military, think of boot camp or basic training,which has its own rules and is designed for a very specific purpose. Sadly, most people confuse the training model of “boot camp” as the leadership model “command and control.”

At this point is important for you to perhaps know my history. I’m not in the military, I’ve never been in the military. However, I am passionate about leadership, training, and development. And if anyone has the BEST designed training and the most EFFECTIVE leadership in the world…it is the US Military. Basic Training is by far one of the most intensive and effective models of training. It lasts a mere 2-3 months (9 weeks for Army, 12 for Marines) and equips people with a mental, physical, and emotional fortitude that no other training program in the world can match. Now, I say that with this caveat: The training is the best in the world for creating combat ready soldiers. That is, if you are looking at training from a pure perspective as an effective means to increase skills and competencies in a very specific direction, no one does it better.

The leadership model of “Command and Control” is the not a training model. Basic training uses adult learning principles, neuroscience of behavior change, and physiology to achieve its objective. Basic training develops an army of soldiers, not a cadre of strategic leaders…that is what leadership training is for. Leadership training is where “Command and Control” is taught – sometimes by name, sometimes by principle. But the meaning of “Command and Control” is as important as any when it comes to leadership, whether it be in the military or in the civilian world. Also worth noting is that within the US military, leadership development is not reserved just for officers; all levels are expected to understand and practice it. Yes, much of leadership training focuses on military strategy, but the principles of human leadership are ubiquitous (human psychology, sociology, group dynamics, communication, etc.)

So here is the punchline. The “command” in “Command and Control” is about decisiveness – make a decision and ensure its execution. “Control” is the process of collecting information to verify and correct activity such that the objective or goal of command is accomplished. The Marine Corps Doctrine Publication (MCDP) 6 (link to pdf) speaks very specifically of “Command and Control.” Intended as a compliment to the MCDP 1, Warfightingthe MCDP 6 “sees command as the exercise of authority and control as feedback about the effects of the action taken” (page 40) Within the US Army Regulation 600-100, “Army Leadership”, the purpose of developing leadership is to “enable [personnel] to learn and adapt in ambiguous situations in a constantly evolving environment” (1-4.c.) Learning does not happen without feedback…and adaptation in a constantly evolving environment is impossible without a clear exchange of information.

This is no different in the business world than it is in the military. The business environment is constantly evolving and adaptation and learning is a must for success. Leaders and managers need to be decisive when the time calls for it, and with that authority, take responsibility for ensuring its execution – which requires feedback. Too many managers and leaders make decisions from a removed position and rarely ask for feedback. And just as bad as not getting any feedback to inform decisions, is not making a decision at all. Over-collaboration can lead to decision paralysis. You need both. “Control” without “command” is impotent, and “command” without “control” is ignorant. Ignorant, not stupid,. But when it comes to leadership, one is just as bad as the other.

Leaders need both: the willingness and ability to make decisions or exercise “command” and the wisdom to seek constant feedback and information to “control” the effectiveness of those decisions. Understanding the true meaning of “Command and Control” is important, both in reference and in practice. Perpetuating the myth that they are verbs is causing you, your leaders, your employees, and your company a great deal of frustration and pain.

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