Beyond Command and Control: leadership, culture and risk
7th August 2017
The book's primary purpose, according to the opening statement, is "to advance the understanding of leadership beyond the inherited myths and traditions of command and control". It advocates the value gained from a shift in order-giving to human interaction. It also argues that the challenge organisations face today is not a shortage of bureaucracy but a failure to understand what workers truly need. For the authors "leadership" is a matter of constructive relationships, effective collaboration and robust influence. But I can't help wondering, hasn't that always been the case?
If you've missed the past few decades of academic dialogue on the differences between management and leadership, this book provides a useful precis. Drawing on instructive examples, including the US army, aviation crashes, nursing failures and NASA's Challenger and Columbia disasters, it makes a compelling case for what good leadership is. The authors strip back leadership almost to the bare threads of the concept before rebuilding a framework for "soft power" where collaborative leaders encourage understanding, conviction and commitment and build a collective wisdom that gives confidence, meaning and a sense of belonging to their teams.
Although I would definitely recommend this book, I was in two minds about its target audience. In one sense, with its stripped-back approach, I felt myself transported back 25 years to first-year university classes. On another, I felt refreshed by the utility of its methods. It reminded me what "good leadership" looks -- and feels -- like.
The way a leader acts is directly related to their success -- today more than ever. The authors show clearly, with excellent references to recent academic studies, how to make the shift from command and control to enjoying "power with" people. Topics such as situational awareness, positive partnership, effective communication, error management and decision-making really only merit short chapters where readers can pick up and quickly reflect on the content. This is certainly the case here. Also, the content is framed in such a way that it can be applied both to leaders with direct reports and those who seek to influence without authority.
Leadership is measured best in how it engages people, so if you're keen to build the sort of organisational culture that lets people do well, this compelling read is a useful addition to the OSH professional's toolkit of "soft skills".