Why being a Leader OR a Manager is bad

I’ve met many people who consider themselves leaders OR managers in my career…and I’m still pretty young. What I have NOT met a lot of are people exemplify the full spectrum of competencies.

The focus on leadership lately is not bad per se, but perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. Managers have focused so much on being collaborative and consensus building that they have forgotten or are unwilling to make decisions, and yet they have not yet learned how to release decision making to their team members. So either decisions take far too long to make or they never get made at all. And in the world of accelerated change this can be a major hindrance.

I see the challenge coming from the contrast of knowledge and wisdom. As I interpret those two terms, knowledge is about information and learning of a topic or principle; wisdom is about balancing when to apply that knowledge and when not to. So simply knowing how to collaborate or achieve consensus is not enough if you think it is always appropriate. (See Over-collaboration) Even more dangerous is when collaboration and consensus are confused.

Managers need to be able to make decisions, regardless of their level. And they need to know when their team needs to make decisions. Developing leadership and management skills together and knowing which tool to use is what makes you effective. If you are not good at one, your efforts at the other will probably suffer. As an example, if you struggle with delegating completely and giving ownership to your employees (management skill) then setting a vision for them to move towards (leadership skill) may leave them frustrated. It would be like setting the rabbit running but keeping the greyhounds on a leash.

It’s not about how leaders and managers are different, that just creates a false belief that people are (or should be) one or the other. Ultimately, it is a false differentiation and needless labeling. Regardless of what you call yourself, you need to be good with people if you work with others and you need to be effective with processes and things if you manage a function.

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln


“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.

Nothing Fails Like Success

It’s not a new notion, things becoming victims of their own success: the worker who is so good at difficult tasks he/she now gets ALL the tough assignments, an efficient project manager now gets held to unrealistic deadlines, a rookie debuts as an all-star only to succumb to steroids under the pressure of continued greatness, companies setting next quarter’s goals off of a stellar previous quarter, and so on. It’s easy to get caught up in success. And while some pitfalls are more apparent than others, some are hard to see. In the realm of management, success as an individual contributor can be the key factor in someone’s downfall as a supervisor.

It’s a common tale: the star performer gets promoted because they are the best on the team at the job…and then they very quickly prove themselves incapable as a manager. They try hard and they want to do a great job but it just isn’t working out for them, the employees, or the company in many cases. One factor (as I have mentioned in other articles) is lack of proper training and support, but a big reason could be the success they enjoyed as a star performing “doer.”

After all this is why they got promoted, right? They were the best at doing the job. So it stands to reason that THEIR way was the best way; at least this is what people tell themselves, consciously or unconsciously. As a result you get micromanagement, the hoarding of knowledge, incomplete delegation, supervision of activity rather than results, etc. Sadly, training does not fix this in most cases because most trainings focus on increasing skills, not awareness. So how do you address this potential roadblock?

Step one is selecting the right candidate for the position. I am not suggesting you pick someone who is not good at their jobs. What I am suggesting is it can’t be your ONLY criteria. The skills and qualities required to be a successful supervisor are not the same as those required to produce a widget, manage a project, create a presentation, or whatever their job happens to be. Promoting someone to supervision solely based on their skill with things might provide you with a supervisor who is just that, good with things, not people.

Step two is being clear about WHY you chose him/her. Yes, for sure the abilities and skill at his/her job is an asset, but how they capitalize on those skills and abilities is very important. If your intent was to get the employees to do things exactly as they did, then by all means tell them that and stop reading this post – you’ll get the drones you are looking for. If you are looking to improve the performance of the group in some way, let them know WHY you think they are the best person to do that and HOW they can use their skills and abilities that are beyond just doing the job.  This is the first part of step three.

Step three is give them more than a handshake to show your support. is a contributor to the difficulty of making the transition. Let’s face it, most people are promoted with a handshake and then told “let me know if you need anything.” The assumption is that great employees are also great managers – despite experience telling us a vastly different story. When they first get hired into non-supervisory positions most people get at least a few days of training. They learn the processes, the best practices, regulations, skills, and expectations of their new role. Yet, a vast majority of managers get nothing. At best they are invited to a few initial meetings to meet people or update them on what projects and goals are in progress. They need training and support and this is where another potential issue can arise.

Entrance to supervision is often the point in people’s career where they are expected to be in charge of their own development. It is now up to them to search, select, enroll, and actually LEARN what they want to learn. This, of course rarely happens, and this may be why. For starters, to this point the employee has had no budgetary decision-making authority, except on how to SAVE the company money. So to look good from a budget perspective, most will not seek out anything that cost money (nevermind, that many are unsure how much they have authority to spend.) Also, they believe they were promoted because they were the best; they were smart, intelligent, and capable – asking for help might imply or hint that they are not those things, and thereby unworthy of the promotion. So most managers will never self select training especially not at the onset, whether it is for fear of spending money or fear of looking incapable, the end result is the same. Nevermind the fact (as I said before) most training is about enhancing skills, not awareness. So even if they do select training and go, their focus tends to be on how they can impact their employees rather than self-reflection and grown.

Preventing the irony of success is more about changing self belief than it is about learning a new skill. Changing beliefs is hard and much of it begins with how we interpret and assign meaning to certain events. Easier than changing a belief that does not serve you is starting with one that does. Pick the right person, tell them why they are the right person for the job, and help them get more support than they think they need.

It is not success itself that fails, it is the belief that what made you successful today is the same as what will make you successful tomorrow.