Control is Over-rated

“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”                                     -- Carrie Fischer, Star Wars, 1977

One of the traditional definitions of management is to control.  Run, do not walk, from that concept.

Command-and-control management systems have functioned throughout history, and in many instances, fulfilled the objectives of the organization and its stakeholders.  But the nature of the work has changed completely since the creation of that model, to say nothing of the times in which we live.

It is my perception that you can’t control anything. Sure, you can wield your authority or sometimes even your power to get people to do what you want.  But at best, you’re getting their compliance and not their commitment.  And there is no power in compliance.

 One of my favorite definitions of leadership came from the late Michael Hammer.  For Hammer, leadership is not getting people to do what you want; leadership is getting people to want what you want.  When people are enrolled in a common sense of mission, vision, and values, the goals and objectives of the organization are far more likely to be achieved than if control is the key management approach.  People’s energies are aligned in a way that can tap the best of their talents and imagination.  There is no limit to what is possible.  With control, those talents and imagination are hidden and unavailable.

 To be sure, I am not praising orgs that are ‘out of control’.  Indeed, despite the near universal emphasis on control, so many orgs are out of control.  It is ironic that in hierarchical management structures in many large corporations, the discretionary authority to take immediate action remains concentrated at the top.  And not just for big, strategic matters; it’s the case for tactical, daily business.  What are all those tiers doing? As Dr. Phil asks, how’s that working out for you?  No wonder the bloat has long-stopped generating value for customers and other stakeholders.  When people are aligned through their commitment to the same things – whether it’s results, ethical behavior, sustainability, value creation, innovation… you name it – the organization couldn’t be more in control.  In that way, an organization’s culture is the ultimate management system.