Over the last 10 years, I have seen companies refocus their values, or leadership approach, to become less “Command and Control” and more “Inspire and Enroll.” However, I don't completely agree with this shift. Let me explain.
First of all, we’re not comparing apples to apples. “Command and Control” could be interpreted as the overuse of being too assertive or too decisive. However, the qualities of being assertive and decisive are still highly valued skills in today's workplace. The positive benefits when operating in this mindset are leaders that are able to make decisions, set clear direction, and able to quickly take action. On the contrary, "Inspire and Enroll” is a way to describe the positive benefits of being inclusive, collaborative, and open to other’s viewpoints. However, it is possible to overuse this approach as well. What happens when leaders are too open or too inclusive? Typically they end up with a team that never makes decisions, becomes stuck in analysis paralysis, or are conflict-avoidant. Take Zappos for example. In the last two years, Zappos shifted their entire approach to embrace “Holacracy,” (a radical, self-managed team approach to replace Bureaucracy). In recent reports, it sounds as if they may have swung the pendulum too far over to the collaborative side. They are left with more meetings, more discussions and less decisions or innovations being implemented. My guess is that as they continue to experiment with this new way of working, they will reach for the positive strategies from the “command and control” side such as clarifying decision-making protocol.
My point is that we’re comparing a negative, downside ("Command and Control") from one approach to a positive, upside ("Inspire and Enroll") from another approach. This thinking stems from Barry Johnson's work on Polarity Management. If we instead viewed these approaches as more neutral, we’re really comparing “Being Decisive” with “Being Inclusive” or some similar variation. They both have benefits and downsides. I don’t think you’ll find any CEO that would want one or the other; we need both. Instead of favoring one style of operating, I suggest leaders learn to recognize when and how to leverage the benefits from both styles. In order to do this, leaders must first recognize their own tendencies and biases. Second, have an overall awareness of how their behaviors are positively or negatively impacting others. And finally, know what strategies to employ when they’re overdoing one of the approaches. I believe that if we can teach leaders the dynamics between behaviors and the patterns that exist, leaders will become more aware and recognize what is necessary to use in any given situation.
A simple exercise you can do to start experimenting with this concept is to recognize one of your greatest strengths as a leader. Then, think if you were to rely too heavily on this particular strength, how would it get in your way? For example, being directive may turn into micromanaging. Being kind may become too accommodating. Just being aware of your own strengths (how they work for you and against you) is the first step to becoming a mindful leader who can adapt to any given situation.