“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.


Why deadlines are better than schedules

I know I have said it many times but I again feel like proselytizing the benefits of deadlines vs schedules.  And here is my message today.  Deadlines are about accountability, schedules are about compliance. So why does it seem deadlines are more acceptable to miss than coming in 10 minutes late or leaving 10 minutes early everyday?  Reason: the excuses are perceived as more valid.

Typically the reason someone gives for missing a deadline is either a displacement of blame or a heraldry of how hard they are working on everything else.  They go something like this: “Oh Phil from accounting didn’t get me the right figures until XXX so I was not able to create the proposal in time…”(displacement); or, “I have had my head down working on the executive presentation and interviewing for the new XXX, that I just did not have the time this week.”(heraldry)  Or my favorite, “I’ve been in meetings all week.”  This one bugs me the most, probably because it is a mixture of both displacement and heraldry, but also because it is an epidemic at most companies.  It is one example of how many companies get in their own way of performance.  On the flip-side, most reasons for coming in late or leaving early are personal, “my dog got out of the backyard”, or “I have a doctor appointment,” and so on.

The managerial approach tends to be more forgiving of the first, and less so of the latter.  Though, from a performance perspective, missing deadlines tends to have a much more detrimental effect on the company.  The message I have heard all too many times delivered is essentially, “regardless of what you need to take care of in your personal life, you need to be here and ready to work at X:XX and you are expected to stay until X:XX.”  But the response to deadline excuses is usually one of accommodation instead of accountability.  It is either a brief, “okay, well when can I expect it” or a lengthy discussion about the importance of the deadline that still ends the same way.  Why isn’t the expectation of how people manage their time the same?  Is it not the expectation that they do all those other things at their job AND meet their deadlines?

Work is a myriad of priority and project management complexity. Some employees navigate it well, others do not…and often at the expense of their personal lives because attendance is more rewarded than performance. Employees who are “burning the midnight oil” or “pulling all-nighters” are seen as hard workers…even if they miss deadlines because they “put in the hours” in effort. Yet the employee who is not compliant with the archaic norm that work gets done from 8a-5p at your desk, is a slacker…even if they consistently meet deadlines.

It seems backwards and it is a paradigm you can change. To improve performance on projects, focus on setting and providing accountability around deadlines, not managing where people are at a given time. If they are meeting their deadlines, then chances are you can trust they are doing what they need to in order to balance ALL of life’s priorities, even the ones you gave them. Deadlines are about results, schedules are about control. If you feel like a babysitter at work, are you managing through results or control?

The Costs of Not Delegating (…completely)

The management credo has always been “delegate, delegate, delegate” yet many managers, both tenured and new, seem to have a great deal of difficulty doing this.  Most of the time, it has nothing to do with not knowing how; throughout our life we have delegated tasks to our siblings, friends, and team mates.  We know how, we just don’t we become a manager.  The simple reason is FEAR.  The increased fear that comes with being responsible but not in control.  So what do we do? We keep control rather than let it go.  Seems like a normal reaction, but it may be working against us in more ways than we realize.

The personal toll

This is usually the first and most obvious place the pain of retaining control shows up.  We have too much on our plates and the first thing someone always suggests is to delegate some of it.  All the personal balancing and time tools in the world will not allow you to do more than you are capable within a given amount of time.  Yet, rather than delegate, we hold tighter to those items and insist (mostly to convince ourselves) that we can do it.  This again, goes back to fear.  The fear perpetuated by feeling overwhelmed in the moment.  “If I were to let go of anything, surely the wheels would come off and things would fail, and people would see I am in over my head, and I would get fired, and the job market is too bad to be looking for a job, and unemployment won’t pay enough to feed my family, and I’ll lose my car, and then I won’t be able get a better job, and I’ll be worthless.”  Sound like a logic train you take?  No?  Well, maybe that one is just me but chances are you have thought it would end in your own personal disaster.

The other part of this fear spiral is the excuse we tell ourselves that “it would take longer to explain than it would to just do it.”  So how is that working for you at 1am when you are still doing the things you could have explained?  The problem there is we don’t have a clear articulation of the outcome either and we are really making our best guesses as we go along…and we don’t trust someone else to make the same guesses, especially when we cannot describe the outcome we want.  Touching on yet another fear…that we may not know what we are trying to do.  So for goodness sake, “don’t ask me about the outcome – the last thing I want is for you to remind me that I have no clue.”

There is also the excuse we firmly believe and that is no one can do it as well as I can.  And here you may be right…but then again, if that is the case and you avoid delegation because of it, then it you will always be right which only continues the cycle.  The other side of this one is you may be wrong.  There may be someone better at this than you.  This can be scary, too.  “If someone is better at this than me, why would they keep me?  I can’t give someone the chance to show me up.”  It’s a vicious cycle.  And that is just the personal toll it takes on you.

Your employees are unhappy

Despite the lingering industrial revolution belief (which was in the late 1800s and early 1900s – yeah, over 100 years ago,) people would not rather sit and do nothing all day.  We are curious and naturally seek challenges.  Imagine this scenario…you are placed in a room with a chair and a table, on the table is a partially completed jigsaw puzzle and the remaining piece.  Given no specific directions other than “make yourself comfortable” chances are you would start working on the puzzle within a few minutes. And this is not my half-baked theory, this experiment has been repeated over and over with the same result.  Check out Dan Pink’s Drive if you don’t believe me.  Given no incentive, people still seek out challenge.

By not delegating your are actually decreasing engagement.  Actually giving your employees something to do makes them feel valued.  And you can’t just delegate the easy stuff.  Again, people want challenge and the opportunity to get better at what they do, they don’t want something simple all the time.  Besides boring them to death, by doing so you are also limiting your employees’ capability to do more things…and thus limiting what you feel you can delegate.  Stretch assignments are things that may need a little additional support at first but result in higher engagement, increased self-esteem, and more productive employees.  And there is also a more subtle emotional component to delegating.  Delegating stretch assignments raises the degree of trust between you and your employee, which can have all sorts of positive effects.  For instance, when employees feel more trusted they are more likely to make decisions when you are not around or unavailable so projects do not stall out during your absence.  They also end to act on things they see instead of waiting to be told.

The organization suffers

This is the trickle down cost to not delegating and it stems from everything above.  Things take longer, less gets done, and people are not looking for solutions…they are simply waiting to be told what to do.  If employees are not challenged and trusted to make their own decisions, they tend to opt on the safe side of not making a potentially “wrong” one…so they wait.  And usually the safe bet is also to do what has always been accepted so very little innovation comes from a non-delegating culture.  Employee retention can also suffer resulting in high turnover rates.  Career development ranks as one of the top drivers of employee engagement.

Efficiency and improvements stall

This one is a little more obscure in its relationship to delegation and perhaps has more to do with trust and control than delegation directly…but they are all inter-related.  When employees are delegated a responsibility, and I mean truly delegated (ownership, authority, autonomy, resources) they tend to come up with better ways to do things.  If I have control over my project and then get to end my day when it is done, I work faster.  Eventually, I start thinking of better, more efficient ways to do things as it allows me more freedom.  And if you want to brush up more on the power of autonomy (one of the motivation principles in Drive) you might want to take a look at Why Work Sucks: and how to fix it by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson.

Long term, everyone wins…short-term everyone wins.  The pain is dealing with the fear of not having control.  And that my friend is all up to you.  The hardest thing to realize is that you are the one standing in the way of your team’s performance.  The next hardest thing is doing something new to change it.