The end of command and control
I still remember quite vividly that day.
Someone trying to discredit me in front of others for the way I was leading my team.
“I asked to a person reporting to Stefano” — it was told to others — “<Who’s your boss?> And you know what that person replied? <Nobody.>”
I never thought of myself as the boss of anybody, even when I had many people working “under” me.
I always thought I was working “with” people, not that I did have people “reporting to” me. If they had to report anything to me then I didn’t do my job properly. They were coming to me with problems, questions, ideas. We were discussing together about potential solutions, people we knew, opportunities we were missing.
I had the final responsibility on the work, the output and especially their wellbeing.
I thought if they were failing, I failed them.
If they were succeeding, we succeeded. Together.
Much of my work as a manager has been to help people find their way to their highest performance. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I failed.
Once I decided to invite the whole company into the same room for a week for the last push towards an important release.
We stayed together, from dusk till dawn, eating, sleeping, coding, fixing bugs, drinking and fighting. Stressed. But happy. One of the best weeks of my professional life. And one I hardly will ever forget.
I would be a fool thinking that I, “the boss”, did anything. I took pride in what we achieved but it wasn’t me alone achieving it. I may have started something but it doesn’t mean I’d have known beforehand what would have been the result.
It’s only with mutual support, open discussion and honest feedback that we got to the final result.
We still live in those times where leaders think that they can singlehandedly change the fate of a company, that without them the company will be doomed.
And that is why they love to retain control.
It’s not for the people who work in the company. It’s to boost their egos and reinforce their belief that they, the bosses, are the chosen ones.
That is why command and control is not dead. Yet. Because who commands, controls.
And it’s so freaking hard to give up control.
The real leaders are those you don’t hear from, because you hear from the people who work for them.
Luckily there is an antidote: it’s called trust.
When you give up control, you give up power. And if people don’t trust you, you won’t have anything else to “make them do what you want”.
But if you do have trust, both ways, people will do what you want, not because you tell them, not because you want it, but because they know they’re doing what is best for them and for you.
Earning trust is way more difficult than exerting control. Sometimes through fear, sometimes through blackmail, sometimes through manipulation, control is always easier.
Control creates a leader surrounded by yes-men and a disempowered workforce that would do anything to escape.
Trust creates a culture of honest and open feedback, accountability and ownership of the results (positive or negative).
What changed during the last 15 years is information. How it is shared, spread and acquired.
We live in a world where anyone with access to internet (and that starts to be quite a high number of people already) can share information instantly.
Boundaries within and among organizations are very thin.
People need less and less leaders and need more and more leadership.
The job of leaders is not in fact anymore to tell what to do, it’s to empower people to find solutions for themselves and the company they work for.
Because now more than ever they have the means to get to those solutions.
This means granting trust on one side and gaining trust on the other.
How to work with trust
Trust = consistency + time
It’s that simple. If you do what you say and say what you do, consistently, over time you will get people to trust you.
Say something and do something else, over and over again and you will lose that trust.
It’s enough you do it once to erode it substantially, but do it more than once and it’s very hard to gain ever again.
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