Does Command & Control Leadership work just as well as Engagement? 

The discussion was started with this question on LinkedIn from Dilys Robinson to fellow members of the Guru Group:

“I’m sure we all encounter managers and business leaders who prefer to issue orders rather than consult and involve – look at Lord Sugar! He’s very clearly in charge and his style seems to work. Is the high visibility of this leadership style giving mixed messages to managers in the UK?”

And within a few comments, the example of the military was raised.

Much of the discussion focussed on command & control in the military, how it is used and how effective it really is. The group seemed broadly in agreement: effective leadership in business like the military requires a mix of methods: engagement and inclusion, direction and motivation, command but not necessarily control.

Doug McKee asked “Is not engagement the antithesis of command & control?”

James Court-Smith addressed this question by suggesting that, outside the Army, command & control will erode engagement. In the military, command & control is accepted as part of the required discipline and obedience, but it can be overused.

Peter A Hunter said that command & control works in the military because it is enshrined in law – failure to carry out orders is a criminal offence. Lots of civilian managers would like this power! While it might be good in emergencies, the routine use of command & control is ‘treated with contempt’, whether that’s civilian or military.

Jeff Kelly suggests that Lord Sugar’s command & control method might work for short term gains, but engagement is needed for long term success. He points out that the Army use command & control but the also empower their personnel. At Sandhurst, officers are taught that if you have to order your troops you have lost the ability to lead them.

Similarly, Bob Hughes’ Army contact uses command, but not the control. The “leader dictates the outcome… then let your team do it the best way they can”.

Mike Pounsford advocated a mix of styles. He has worked for a strong leader who was both challenging and motivational. Leaders and managers who use command and control “can be very engaging providing they know when and how to use different styles”.

Graham Frost believes a leader enables people to do their jobs by providing physical and emotional resources. He favours the Servant Leader.

Helen Caton-Hughes is currently working on Goleman’s 6 styles of leadership. She has found, through her leadership courses, that the military are introducing a coaching style into their practice.

This debate about leadership and management looked at what works in the military (command, but not control) and how that would work outside of the military. How can good leaders use aspects of this practice? Can it blend well with other leadership styles?

According to this debate, the best leaders know when to use the right style at the right time.

By Louise Laing and Dilys Robinson
Institute for Employment Studies
On behalf of Engage for Success

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