A spectacular own goal!
Leadership made easy

How Management is Lobotomising Leadership

For decades now we have been hearing that command and control management is dead. If only! Reports of its demise have been both premature and greatly exaggerated. Not only has no replacement system yet been found but there has been little sign of one being identified, which means, at best, that it is suffering a lingering death. The truth, however, is that command and control is alive and well and flourishing as it always has, albeit in a different guise.

This is because command and control is so integral to management theory that, to all intents and purposes, it is virtually synonymous. If you doubt that just ask yourself, “To what extent is my role to coerce particular behaviours from my employees?” This mind-set is so engrained into the management psyche it continues to shape management behaviour and perpetuate command and control despite claims to the contrary and completely different intentions. Perhaps that is why you are currently hearing so much about management and leadership.

Management and Leadership Imbalance

Leadership is a hot topic today. You cannot help being aware of the increasing calls for more leadership throughout society. Look at the proliferation of books on leadership – 106,311 on Amazon alone! Pick up any newspaper, business or management magazine and you will find articles about leadership and a plethora of advertisements offering leadership training. This has to be the natural – if largely unconscious – recognition of the need to find that replacement for command and control.

Yet much of the focus revolves around the difference between management and leadership. Yes, they are different, but this pre-occupation with the difference creates a dichotomy that is possibly being exaggerated and which is itself the result of the residual command and control mind-set. If command and control were really dead this discussion would not be happening. The fact it is gives cause for concern.

Of even greater concern, however, is the increasing call for more leadership. This suggests that leadership is losing ground against command and control management. It is; because management has moved.    

The Relocation of Management

The divide between leadership and management is being perpetuated and exacerbated by our modern systems. Technological advances and the subsequent business process re-engineering (BPR) efforts that followed have resulted in extremely sophisticated, integrated systems that have accelerated the pace of life astronomically. These capabilities have, however, come at a great price; one which has not yet been widely or fully recognised.

Increasingly sophisticated systems have accelerated business to the extent they have thrust decision-making ‘down-the-line’ and created what is popularly called distributed leadership or decision making. That is a good thing, but unfortunately, with their built-in and rigid controls to anticipate and cover every possibility, they have, paradoxically, also taken away the decision making capability from the people who operate them. As a result we have a proliferation of rules and regulations that shape everything we do and limit the decisions that we can actually take, in the process frustrating us to unprecedented levels.

Lobotomising Leadership 13325473_sEffectively the traditional command and control aspect of management has shifted. It is now being built into the systems. This relocation has hidden, and potentially disastrous, consequences because it impersonalises and dehumanises management. Instead of empowering it lobotomises. This brings management and leadership into conflict and means that when you are trying to act as a leader and do what is expected of you as a leader, you can find your efforts constrained – and even undermined – by your own systems.  Thus any discussion about integrating leadership and management are largely irrelevant simply because the former is outside your control.

How Leadership is Undermined

You can, I am sure, think of examples of how management is being automated and thus impersonalised, but let me share two from my own recent experience. 

  • A training-provider client had a candidate enrol for one of their courses. In order for the candidate’s employer to pay, however, my client had to become an approved supplier. Just filling in forms took over 4 hours to complete – a disproportionate and inappropriate use of my client’s time.
  • Their system error resulted in my bank failing to pay a supplier and then levying a steep charge. When I disputed this neither the clerk nor their regional manager had the authority to revoke the charge and the dispute had to be escalated to the Financial Ombudsman.   

Experiences like this are frustrating for all parties. Imagine you were the bank manager tasked with building or improving customer service, and, even worse, remunerated for customer satisfaction. The system inhibits your autonomy and handicaps your ability to deliver.

People are not stupid. Thus when it comes to setting performance targets your employees will negotiate either undesirable performance targets that they at least have some chance of making, or other performance measures that make a lesser contribution to the business. Or both! In any event, they still will not be acting in a manner which is in the best interests of the business. And isn’t that what employee engagement is all about? And, of course, employee engagement is actually a leadership issue, which means your leadership efforts are effectively being undermined and your organisation is suffering as a result. It is hardly surprising then that employee engagement surveys continue to show no improvement in employee engagement. For starters your own cannot be that great.

The Challenge: Being a Leader

In order to be a leader you have to recognise and deal with these constraints. You need to:

  • Place less emphasis on the systems and the performance measures that they drive;
  • Relax the rigidity around the rules built-in to the systems and see them as warnings rather than instructions;
  • Empower your people and give them the autonomy to evaluate circumstances and adapt the application of the rules accordingly.

Of course to do this you need a guiding framework. My next article, “Leadership Made Easy” will show you how to create this.  


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