Give Up Command And Control — It Kills Productivity


Pollyanna Pixton

August 8, 2016

Paul’s new boss, Mary, asked him to write a report about his area of work, metrics, and after he finished the report, he spend hours editing it to make it readable and prefect. A few days after he turned in the report, Mary handed the document back covered with redlines. After a few more days of work, Paul submitted an update, only to have it come back with more minor redlines. After several cycles of corrections, Mary accepted the report.

Weeks later, Mary asked for another report from Paul and after he turned it in, she did the same level of repeated corrections. Paul, a Senior Director, saw the pattern quickly and learned that anything he turned in would be corrected so he began to just submit a quick draft.

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Command and control, often referred to as micromanagement, reduces the productivity through demotivation, lack of ownership and decision making, and reduction in a personal sense of value and company contributions.

If you want a high performance and highly innovative culture you must give up command and control. Not easy but possible but can you make the move.

Stop Telling People How To Do Their Work

As a leader, you are in the business of explaining what needs to be done and why it adds value to your customers and to your business. You must stay out of the business of telling people how to solve the problem or provide customer solutions.

Unfortunately, it is the way we began company work. People move up in the organization by solving problems and managing and organizing tasks, delegating what needs to be done and by when. To transition to a good leader is to stop managing tasks and encouraging people to solve problems the way they think it should be solved. As leaders move up the ranks, they often move away from the latest new technology and innovative thinking. It must be left to people to own their solutions.

And what if they fail? People learn more from their mistakes than they do from their successes. Is someone implements a solution that you suggested or directed them to do and they fail, they blame you instead of making a correction that might succeed. When this happens, you are creating a culture of learned helplessness where productivity can be as low as 20%.

Push Decisions Far Into Your Organization

One manager of a million dollar project was complaining that she could not get any team members to work extra hours as the due date approached. “Who decides what they do each week?” she was asked. “I do,” was the reply. After some coaching, she started by telling the team what they were building and why. She they let them make the decisions about what they wanted to take on each week. Not only did the teams get more done in a week but they started working extra hours. They had ownership in the project results and wanted it to be successful.

Successful businesses listen to their customer needs and provides the value you they are looking for. The people near the edges of your organization are closer to your customers and the trends in the marketplace. They can often make more informed decisions than those buried in the company hierarchy.

One software engineer worked his way up the organization career path and became the leader of a $120 million international technical project. The engineer realized that in the fast moving technology space, he was technically dead. All he could do was ask people questions on how they wanted to solve the problem. After several weeks, one team found a design error that would bring the system to a halt if implemented. Unfortunately, a vice president had approved the design and the leader had to politely undo the bad decision the VP had made. The teams had ownership of the solution and could make the correction.

Your Transition Will Be Up and Down

The move away from command and control is a difficult process with many ups and downs. When I got my first leadership job, I spent three days in my office waiting for someone to tell me what to do. I now had to figure out what needed to be done and why and then engage my teams to find the solutions. I began to read books and talked to other leaders but the best lessons came from trial and error.

The best advice was to become the kind of leader you would like to have. Who have been your best bosses and why did you like working for them? Who were the worst and why did you stop working for them as soon as you could? Asking a group of middle managers what they wanted from their leaders, their answers were trust and ownership. When asked what they thought their teams wanted, their answer was guidance. When their direct reports were asked the same two questions, back came the same answers. They wanted trust and ownership not guidance. What you want from your leaders is most likely what your teams want from you.

You will make mistakes and you need to apologize to your teams as soon as you can. But over time leading will become second nature and you will no longer take over solving the problem because you ‘know the answer” or you “could do it faster yourself.”


You must stay out of the business of telling people how to do their work and let them find their own solutions. Before you speak, ask yourself the following questions: Am I giving the solution and now will own the effort? Am I making a decision that I should let other’s make? Will what I am saying communicate trust and confidence in my teams and peers?

Ask your peers to point out when you step into the ‘how’ area. And remember that while you are not solving problems every day, think of all the people that are solving them because you stepped back.

This article was written by Pollyanna Pixton from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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