Monday, December 20, 2010

Beware Command & Control In The C-Suite

Are executives taking a "back to the future" approach with command & control replacing particpative management as the preferred leadership style?

At some companies the answer appears to be yes.

For years, leadership gurus have preached - and most companies embraced - the concept of enlightened leadership. Leaders were taught that the best way to motivate their employees was to encourage openness, create a shared vision, gain buy-in, seek collaboration and coach their teams.

It was this management style that helped assure maximum creativity and involvement from employees and allowed companies to best utilize their human resources to reach and often exceed their goals.

Motivation through fear.....

But lately, following layoffs driven by an economic downturn that led to double digit unemployment and left those still employed perpetually fearful of losing their jobs, some executives are capitalizing on that fear to adopt a "my way or the highway" approach to leading.

When that authoritarian approach starts at or near the top of a company it has a tendency to trickle down throughout the management ranks, creating undo stress and leaving employees wishing they were somewhere else. It's those feelings among employees that often get translated into lowered performance and an erosion of the bottom line.

You can see the proof in the results of engagement surveys where fewer and fewer employees say they would recommend their present employer to others and in the anecdotal findings from career coaches who report that many of their working clients are eager to find new employment.

Don't ask, don't tell corporate style.....

This was made very clear to me recently when a highly successful senior exec I know, whose plate was overflowing with an endless stream of priority projects, met with her boss to suggest alternative approaches to tackling them and was told, "It's not your job to question what's important or what's not, just do what you're told."

This corporate version of "don't ask, don't tell" not only failed to solve her problem but succeeded in inhibiting her creativity and involvement, reducing her ability and willingness to contribute and left a disgruntled employee whose primary interest became finding another job. When the economy turns, she'll be among the first out the door.

Companies who allow their leaders to succumb to the allure of command & control during hard times do so at their own risk. The best companies know that times change and are eager to gain employee input, maintain high levels of engagement and promote best-practice leadership styles during good times and bad.

It's why they are called, employers of choice.
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