Sunday, May 29, 2016

Are We Returning to Command and Control Leadership?

What’s happening to leadership these days? The number of articles and ‘posts’ on the topic have increased exponentially over the last decade advising current and wannabe leaders of the most effective behaviours to engage in with their staff and how to inspire and motivate them for success – a win-win for all involved. Yet this desired image of effective leadership seems to be sadly lacking on the ground, in the actual workplace, all over the world.
In fact I’d suggest that leadership as a focused ‘technique’ is being replaced more and more with command and control type approaches to getting things done – where people in positions of authority are reverting back to being managers; and in many cases failing to lead all together.
I seem to be meeting more and more managers who lack the very basic leadership qualities and who are quite happy managing for results, rather than leading for results.
There are probably many reasons for this current trend, including;
1. There is just too much conflicting literature on leadership for anyone starting their careers to be sure what actually is the most effective style or technique. This is mostly due to the over commercialisation of the topic and sadly this trend is unlikely to end in the short-term. Every week someone is coming up with a ‘new’ style definition of leadership claiming ‘their way is different’ and in the end, as with over selling anything, ‘we’ are devaluing the very basics of leadership.
2. We’ve always known that command and control styles that mirror results orientated management gets the job done. It may not optimise your long term growth or operating results; and definitely won’t lead to a motivated workforce that is self-driven towards continuous improvement and innovation – but then stakeholders and markets don’t seem to be that interested beyond ‘the moment’ any more – so the old fashioned command and control approach gets them what they want. With a labour market that has changed significantly in the last 15 years, managers are confident of being able to find people to fill jobs – and since they are just looking for people to do as they are told – they take the approach that they know their labour pool is healthy across most sectors, so why care about people.    
3. Where are the role models? And hence where do youngsters pick up the basic values that contribute to great leadership these days? The media, especially the news media, has also changed over the last 15 to 20 years where they will readily admit that they are in the entertainment industry first and the news industry only second – as it’s all about ratings. Where are the inspirational leaders like Nelson Mandela – a man who showed so many strong characteristics and behaviours of exceptional leadership? Instead, for example, our future leaders are exposed to a selection of potential US presidential candidates verbally abusing some sector of society, as this is considered more entertaining than anything else and considered news worthy these days – and the young viewer is expected to be mature enough to see past the ‘entertainment’ and not be swayed by the potential leader of the free world not actually behaving like a leader should.
4. Who actually cares? Poor leadership has been becoming the rule rather than the exception over a couple of decades now and it appears that no one really cares. It seems to be part of the new accepted business model that employees are not ‘committed’ to their organisation anymore, so managers don’t need to be too bothered with the concept of inspiring and motivating them – they are just there for a pay check, have little ambition and will pretty much do as they are told.
Really?  Maybe that’s what poor leaders are telling themselves – but in my experience most, if not all, employees dream of working for an organisation that cares about them; and will create an environment where they can reach their full potential. It’s the chicken and egg story – it’s because employees haven’t been led effectively that they have thrown in the towel and decided “if you can’t beat them join them”.
If organisations desire to be the best they can be then they need to start paying real attention to their leadership approach. This doesn’t mean going and asking employees what they think – as these employees already operate in an environment where they don’t feel safe and hence will not give an honest answer. Too many organisations are fooled by thinking their internal surveys tell them everything is working perfectly and can’t see what is really going on. It takes a very special CEO who will create the right environment to identify the ‘real’ problems in his or her organisation and then put in place the solutions to fix them.
If you’ve worked for a great, inspirational leader you’ll know the difference it made to your whole approach to life – not just business but everything. The energy that you felt working in this kind of environment and how you actually enjoyed your job. It’s not just a short term thing; and the inspirational leader creates the right environment that allows you to grow and develop, often allowing you to find latent skills you didn’t even know you had. This is a win-win for everyone.
And that’s the simple difference between good and poor leaders – good leaders create an environment where everyone wins; the employee, the organisation and the leader – where the poor leader creates a win-lose environment where the leader wins and the organisations wins in the short-term, but the employee loses and so does the organisation in the long-term (compared to what their full potential would have been offered them).
Let’s get back to basics – let’s simplify great leadership, so that it’s clear to everyone – and let’s put the commercialisation on hold and build the next generation of great leaders across the world. The more we confuse people about what great leadership is in the workplace, the longer poor leaders will flourish.