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Command and Control Leadership is leaving the building. Are you stuck?

Empty desk as a result of poor leadership

“Help! My leadership style is not working. I feel disconnected from my team and they are not supporting me.”

According to a recent EY study, employees are leaving their jobs at an alarming rate. In fact, nearly one in four workers said they plan to leave their current role in the next year. What's driving this trend? 

We can dig into a long list,  a myriad of reasons people say they are leaving. 

I think it is simpler than that. 

People leave their leaders.

People leave because they don't feel valued, don’t see key growth opportunities or don’t get a chance to work on challenging or meaningful projects and ultimately don't feel their managers are helping them with developing and practicing their skills . 

Increasingly, we are also seeing people reject the old leadership paradigms that lead to burn out and don’t recognise a broad shift in values across our teams.. 

CEOs should be alert to any autocratic leaders or lack of effective leadership at all levels of their organisation. It will already be impacting culture today and will heavily impact their future ability to drive innovation and creative thinking.

This is part generational change, but it is more than that. This is truly about the need to engage the people you lead. This change has been coming for a while*.

If you have recently been wondering why

  • Your desks are empty (people walking out of the door)

  • Productivity has dropped & employees no longer go above and beyond (people quietly quitting) 

  • Your engagement surveys outcomes feel like a slap in the face

Empty desks that happen as a result of traditional management

Then it could be time to assess if the challenge starts with you.

What is a typical Command and Control approach? (Or my way or the highway)

This is a hierarchical style of management that emphasises centralised authority, adherence to rules, and control over employees.

It is the sort of autocratic leader that wants everyone back in the office 5 days a week, is focused on  time not output and reflects that “this is the way we have always done it” or  “If it was good enough for me?...” 

Autocratic leaders place pressure on themselves to have all the answers and always need to be seen as being right. 

In my latest interview series, Diane Smith Gander shares some brilliant advice she received from a trusted mentor at a critical point in her career, when in her own words, her leadership style had hairs on it and she felt the need to be seen as being right, which is often associated with an autocratic leadership style…

….Because if you're always right, then there's not much room for other people to contribute. And Diane, what if you're actually not right? What if someone in your team has a bit of experience that you don't have? Or a little bit of insight that you haven't been able to build. And that got you to the answer, ensuring that the team doesn't fail on this one. You're not much of a leader or manager if you haven't been able to pull that out of your team.

Click here for the full video of our conversation, loaded with Diane’s leadership advice. 

An autocratic leader was once considered the standard and represented a set of effective leadership skills. It had its place. That isn't now. We often hear stories of needing to use these leadership styles in a crisis. Think old school military - we need to move and MOVE NOW! There was no time for questioning authority, it was an essential and effective leadership style at the time. Lives depended on it. 

That’s changed in the military now, as modern effective leaders recognise the need for more leadership agility and decision making on the spot based on an assessment of the situation at the time.

Describe the military style as old school practice that managers no longer need as essential tool

Why do effective leadership skills change slowly in the corporate world?

I believe leaders are trying to embrace different leadership styles. Leaders are attending Leadership courses designed to develop essential new leadership skills,  but old habits are hard to change and require the ability and culture to show up with vulnerability that is uncomfortable.

This vulnerability contradicts everything leaders were taught historically to believe about being a good leader who can drive successful business performance. 

From my experience as a CEO, the best way to change is to be open and curious and invite feedback from each unique team member, to get really honest about your leadership styles and it takes deep reflection and a willingness to look in the mirror!

Only then will you be able to develop yourself as one of the great leaders with high employee engagement, strong & loyal relationships with outstanding business performance.

So why doesn't this - old - autocratic leadership style work? 

For one thing, this style of leadership in an organisation stifles creativity and innovative ideas. Employees who feel like they are constantly being micromanaged are for example not likely to take risks or think outside the box, let alone drive innovative ideas forward. Additionally, this style of leadership often breeds resentment and resistance among employees. 

When employees feel like they are not being trusted to do their jobs, they are more likely to look for opportunities elsewhere.  This has a distracting and negative influence on any workplace with low morale and plummeting employee engagement.

To meet the challenges, today and into the future, we require leaders who are motivated and willing to reflect. It will be a fundamental need for any organisation to be prepared for the ongoing complexity and rate of key challenges and change ahead of all of us. 

We are all talking about the change in values post pandemic. Sure, it sped things up, but this necessary change was coming.

Covid was the pause button that got us questioning things as we saw firsthand that there were different ways of cracking the old chestnut.

As leaders, we need everyone in our workplace to be dynamic innovative thinkers, engaged in the business and motivated to contribute, to challenge and question and debate. 

COVID forces difficult decisions and creating a new normal

It’s a uniquely human place for us in a digital world.

We need the leadership skills to create that effective leadership environment.

That is our only job.

I heard Simon Sinek say recently that Leadership is like parenting - our learning is never done. So, if it feels like time to reflect and up level your own leadership, the question is how to achieve that?

Answer these questions to assess if your leadership could be in a rut? 

  • Is my style working right now? Is my team engaged, are they loyal or do they need a different version of me to succeed?

  • Am I vulnerable and open to change? Have I admitted to myself that I might need to?

  • Have I asked anyone for open and honest feedback about my style?

  • Do I have trusted confidants that I could get feedback from?

  • Do I always feel like I need to have the answers?

  • Do I jump to quickly provide solutions or do I leave the space for my team to step into?

  • Do I listen to understand or am I waiting to provide a solution and demonstrate that I know the answer? As Michael Bungay Stanier shares, it could be time to  “tame your advice monster?”

What whispered back when you answered these questions

I think we are all up for the challenge. 

The challenge to reimagine ourselves and become the leaders that our teams need.

Here are my top five tips to become an effective leader 

This will hopefully inspire you to practice and embrace more than one style and become an effective leader who not only has a positive influence on business performance but makes real and lasting change for yourself and every team member.

  1. Start with yourself - if you want to see your employees developing new skills, then you need to be willing to do the same. Focus on opportunities to learn new things, challenge yourself professionally and step outside your own comfort zone. (Share how you feel when you do). It is about the common goal, not your ability to be right.

  2. Lead with a generous attitude and genuine interest.  Be open and curious, invite new ideas, give people credit for their success and be lavish in praise.. 

  3. Encourage open communication - create an environment where employees feel comfortable coming to you with ideas, concerns, or feedback about the company and workplace they work in.  If you need help with this download my guide to two-way communication. It’s a framework to support you. It’s not rocket science (and might create innovative and strong relationships for you and the company).

  4. Delegate - build trust and empower your employees by delegating tasks and giving them the autonomy to complete them in their own way in different situations. (not the way you would do it). Don’t hang onto knowledge and process - the old “knowledge is power” paradigm is dead.

  5. Promote lifelong development by focusing on your team's individual and collective strengths - offer opportunities for employees to develop new skills through training programs or tuition reimbursement programs. 

Person, team and leaders should look in the mirror to achieve success.

*Give me the stats: The recent 2021 Census of Population and Housing in Australia has revealed  that Millennials (25-39 years old) are now  the largest generational group in Australia (the same statistics have been mirrored in the US) . That means millennials are the largest component of the workforce today. And they are rejecting command and control and demanding connectedness with their leadership and meaning from what they are doing.