The Command Style of Management is Dead

March 20, 2019

When I got my first job, I felt fortunate to have it. No one had to tell me to work hard or exceed expectations. I knew intuitively that if I didn’t do great, I’d get fired. The fear of my boss finding someone else to do my job was my professional Sword of Damocles. Unemployment was high, and the management style was authoritarians giving commands and motivation was based on fear.

For my personality, that fear was probably a good thing. It taught me a strong work ethic, focused me on providing more value than I was getting paid for, and ensured I was always improving. It was also just what I expected because it was the way things were done.

The command management style was prevalent in the 1980s, but so many employees failed to thrive in this environment. Those employees became fragile after getting chewed out one too many times and many became risk-averse. They learned through repeated negative experiences to not stand out. Others learned to work the system, where looking productive was far more important than actually being productive. While a command management style might yield short-term results, most people will regress to the mean (or worse) over the long run.

Fortunately, managers have learned better methods since my first job. There are myriad of articles out there describing how to use positive motivation, how to inspire, and how to use great morale to create incredible teams and organizations. These new methods are effective across a broader group of employees and create a happier and more productive workforce than authoritarian methods.

While the command style of management persists in the small provinces of managerial tyrants, it is dead as a successful management method in business, academia, and even the military.

If you are concerned you are using an outdated and subpar management style, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Do you trust your people to work with little oversight, allowing them to be responsible for big projects, not just small tasks?

2. Is everyone on the team empowered, not just the more senior people?

3. Do your employees provide you with active feedback, even including criticism of you?

If you said no to any of these, you likely need to change your management style. Seek out mentors, read high-quality books (e.g. Radical Candor), and check out my article Cultivating Employee Loyalty. You can improve as a manager by acquiring the knowledge of management best practices and then practicing them. Software tools like ManageLabs enable you to do this, while simultaneously cognitively offloading routine administrative work, making your job as a manager easier.

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