Guide and Support Leadership vs. Command and Control Leadership

With experience managerially supporting 76 companies in 8 distinct industries, I’ve come to be somewhat of an expert on leadership; especially which styles reduce costs and improve results over those that promote an environment of mistrust and underutilization.

In my current role as a CEO and co-founder of a revenue operations company, I have become a huge proponent of self-managed teams. Not only do I value the expertise and capability of everyone we hire, but our executive team as a whole recognizes the huge opportunity for reducing costs and improving results when management time and energy can focus on progress versus oversight.

There are several methods to facilitate a culture of Guide and Support versus Command and Control. Before I dig into the “how,” it’s important to understand the “why” so let’s first consider the differences between the two work environments.

Command & Control Leadership versus Guide & Support Leadership

Command & Control is the age-old traditional management hierarchy where people do what their boss says because the boss said to do so. Employees are told what work is needed to achieve business objectives because that is what the top layers of management dictate, not because the people actually doing the work have been consulted about how to accomplish the goal.

In a Command & Control environment, it's common that:

  • Employees don't understand why they are taking an action, they just know that this is the action they have been told to take.

  • Frontline employees have no autonomy or authority to make decisions, they operate without thinking to follow the directions they’ve received.

  • More supervisors are needed to oversee employees who cannot independently handle unplanned or uninstructed situations

  • More performance management work is required because the systems are not in place for employees to monitor their own performance relative to management expectations and business goals.

With Guide & Support leadership, everyone at every layer of the organization becomes dedicated to the same company objectives. We don't need as many managers because leadership provides the guardrails within which our teams are authorized to make decisions. Guide & Support cultures utilize the hands-on expertise of employees to determine the best approach for everyday operations.

In a Guide & Support environment, it's common that:

  • Management is not required to take part in every day, frontline decisions.

  • Management is only needed if someone feels like a situation is going to cross a defined boundary line, and they know exactly which manager or project leader to collaborate with in order to resolve the challenge.

  • The infrastructure is in place for people to make their decisions, monitor their performance, and accomplish their work.

  • Expectations are realistic; employees need management’s support to do their job only when the business or expectation changes.

In a Guide & Support environment, there are few conversations at all about non-performance, or even performance improvement, because management conversations take place in a support role, not in a command role. The systems and tools are in place so that everyone knows exactly how their performance will be measured, and as a result, management focuses on improving operations not overseeing operations.

Why is Command & Control Leadership Bad for Business?

  • More work: It's hard work to manage people when they have no autonomy or authority to make decisions.

  • More expensive: You need a lot more management staff to supervise people who are not measuring or managing their own performance.

  • Underutilization: You hire smart and capable people, give them the responsibility of making your business better--they will be more loyal and appreciative when they bring more value to your organization.

  • High risk: When work doesn't go as planned, which happens often, your team is not empowered to handle the challenge. The result is lost productivity, dissatisfied customers, disgruntled workers, management stress, opportunity costs, and the list goes on-and-on.

Why is Guide & Support Leadership Good for Business?

  • Less work: By giving people the autonomy and authority to make decisions, you elevate and reduce the work of managers.

  • Cost-effective: Fewer managers and supervisors means that you save money on overseers of work and hire more producers of work.

  • Environment of trust: With less micromanagement and more earned-trust, workers perform better and continuously improve.

  • Low risk: As workers are empowered to handle everyday situations, stress decreases, productivity increases, and satisfaction improves.

How to Develop a Guide & Support Leadership Culture

The final key area of consideration in Command & Control versus Guide & Support leadership is training. When employees know the boundaries of their decision-making capacity, they can independently represent the company's best interests and confidently respond to challenges as they arise.

  • Establish guardrail parameters and within those guardrails allow your team to make choices, decisions, and mistakes.

  • Train your team to know when they are about to bump into a guardrail and who to ask for help before the problem escalates.

  • Establish realistic expectations in partnership with your team so everyone agrees on expectations and how performance will be measured.

  • Develop KPIs to quantify performance and provide everyone visibility as to where they stand in regard to agreed-upon performance.

  • Trust. Allow your highly qualified team to make informed decisions autonomously without always asking for permission.

When people understand the bounds of their position they have full authority to make decisions within those guidelines. The wider those guidelines, the more accountability an employee has earned to make decisions and act in the company's best interests.

Tara’s first revenue revelation occurred at age 3 when she realized that there is a market for gravel washed in a dog watering bowl. She has since devoted her career to problem-solving and progress-innovating as she managerially supported 76 companies in 8 distinct industries before the age of 40. She has been an owner, key executive, fractional manager or strategic advisor in building business development operations for 41 owner-operated small businesses and startups. She is now CEO of Atomic Revenue, constant innovator of progress, mom of two energetic young girls, as well as writer and speaker on related topics.