Command and Control – not automatically evil

Prefer to watch on video than read?  Click here – 4 mins with captions.

The Paintball Experience

I went paintballing once.  Thought it would be fun – I’d played a lot of sport, am pretty coordinated, I like reading about war…

And it sucked.

The whistle goes, I attempted to move…POP…..POP….POP and I’m out.

Regroup, go again, POP…..POP….POP and I’m out.

You know what I needed?

Some sort of sergeant.  Some sort of person who could yell at me

“Thompson, over there…NOW”.

In other words, I needed some command and control.  I wanted some.  It would have made the whole thing a lot more enjoyable.

I could have performed my role better, felt like a better contributor to the team.  More valuable.

Command and Control

Today’s world of work runs an assumption that command and control is bad.  You’d think it’s actually evil.  And, yes, there are many times where it’s a negative thing.

But not all times.

Have you heard of Jocko Willink?  He looks really friendly…

I’m guessing you’re not surprised he’s an ex-Navy SEAL.  You know, the hard-asses.  Served in Iraq.

You might be slightly more surprised that he’s written more than one book on leadership and is now a very successful consultant and speaker, even has his own podcast.

The inspiration for this article came from a particular quote in the above book.  Here it is:

My job was to provide command and control to coordinate between my SEAL sniper overwatch teams from Charlie and Delta Platoons and the U.S. Army and Marine Corps units.

Do you see the key word in there?



The command and control was provided. It was a service to the soldiers whose role in the mission was to be out in the streets of Fallujah so they could a) stay alive, and b) complete the mission.   It wasn’t done to them.  They weren’t subjected to it.

(The practical details were that Willink was behind the lines in the command vehicle monitoring the communications between three different units so he could direct events to ensure safety and the mission being completed),

Think about my paintball example.  Now think about the work world of you and your people. 

Does it feel like balls of paint are zipping in continually (they’re called email, interruptions and any other types of communication you have enabled in an act of insanity), that we don’t know which way to move, and that it would all be easier to just lie there and wait?

Perhaps your people would benefit hugely from…a little command and control.

NOT from some #$%& who is treating them awfully…

…but from clarity about what the purpose is, what the priority is, therefore what to be doing next. And if you’re not doing that…to let you know.

Role Relationship

A high-performing team is made up of adults acting like adults.  If we go back to my paintball session, if there had been a friend there who knew what they were doing, we would have formed into a natural role relationship while the game was on. I would have been glad to take direction from them so I could get the enjoyment of doing my role well.  Any feedback would have been welcomed.  And I would trust that it was for the best for all of us.

And perhaps they would have done a quick “how did we go, any ideas?” session after each mission before the next one.  Them taking the leadership role of asking the question, getting all the angles, then making a call.  That would have been great. (In the military they are called After Action Reviews, and you should do them.)  Command and Control would not have meant not listening.

Bringing it Home

Remember, management is the work of getting resources to be as valuable as possible in achieving what they are there for.  And us humans need to be valuable – in fact, it’s a condition of being psychologically OK.  We all want to be very useful engines.

Which means sometimes, some command and control is the best way to serve your fellow humans.  It’s not automatically evil.

Your job is to recognise when this is needed and provide some.

Now, over to you…

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