A Daily Dispatch from the Front Lines of Leadership.


The Command-and-Control Hangover

Years after a leadership regime change, the effects of a command-and-control style can still be felt across an organization. When organizations suffer from the Command-and-Control Hangover, team members are reluctant to take risks or make decisions without the approval of those above them. They wait to be told what to do, lacking the initiative to execute without specific instructions.

Worst of all, team members who survive the tyrants of an autocratic workplace run from accountability, preferring others take ownership for outcomes and results. Empowerment becomes a curse, not a blessing.

Breaking out of this milieu is a tremendous challenge for the leaders that follow. No matter how hard they try at being inclusive, engaging, and respectful, team members have a difficult time forgetting how to act on their own without direction. The lingering effects of autocratic leadership can’t be eliminated without resorting to an extreme message.

The only way to recover from the Command-and-Control Hangover is to ask team members to move from compliance to action. This happens when leaders make a compelling case for a new vision and strategy going forward, and explain repeatedly why it is so important.

Highlighting the higher purpose and social benefits of the work the team performs is also essential. Through an ongoing dialogue within the organization about why the enterprise exists and what larger meaning it creates for team members and stakeholders, leaders gain a newfound commitment to action. Slowly, team members forget what they have been negatively trained to do (comply) and start to act with initiative and industry.

This same recipe works for individual teams and new team leaders who follow a Command-and-Control predecessor. Any time a specific team suffers from the imprinting of an autocratic leader, a renewed commitment to an exciting and powerful vision, strategy, and purpose will deprogram team members from inaction to action.

The headache only lasts if leaders expect it to go away all on its own. Surprisingly, the Command-and-Control Hangover can last for years following a regime or leader that was expert at deploying it. Instead, take two aspirin and gain the commitment to a compelling future.

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