In recent years, many have claimed that old-style command-and-control leadership is out and a new way of leading is in. Instead of telling people what to do, leaders should ask them open-ended questions. Instead of sticking exactly to plans, they should be flexible and adjust goals as new information emerges. Instead of working from internal feelings and gut instinct, a leader should rely on data to make decisions—and many more similar comparisons.
Some call command-and-control leadership traditional or old-fashioned and the other new and emerging. Truth is, though, both models have been around a very long time. Jesus, a great leader from 2000+ years ago, is the poster child for a great blend that included servant leadership. In the current environment, most executives also need to be good at both styles to succeed. Any leader who relies solely on positional authority will run into trouble; business, technology, and workforce expectations are changing much too quickly for that approach to be sustainable. But also, any leader who fails to strive for perfection, who never tells and only listens, and who shares but never holds power, will also struggle to be effective.
Let’s go a little deeper. Command and control leadership is a traditional leadership style that is often associated with military operations. The leader is at the center of all decision-making processes, giving orders and expecting team members to follow them without question. The main focus of this leader is on processes, tasks, and output. It’s a highly structured model where the roles and expectations are clearly defined.
On the other hand, servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the individual life, builds better organizations, and gradually creates a more just and caring world. It was publicly proposed by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. In this leadership style, the leader is at the service of their team members. Their main goal is to help team members grow personally and professionally. The focus of a servant leader is on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.
Hidayat Rizvi, experienced valued leader, and founder of World Class Services, further shares the key summaries of these leadership styles. These are found and amplified on his June 27, 2023 posting on his World Class Services website.
Key Differences Between Command-and-Control Leadership and Servant Leadership:
Focus of the leader: A command-and-control leader focuses on tasks and output, whereas a servant leader focuses on the growth and well-being of their team.
Decision-making: In command-and-control leadership, the leader makes all decisions, while in servant leadership, decision-making is often a collaborative process.
Relationship with the team: Command-and-control leaders maintain a formal relationship with their team members, while servant leaders foster a personal and professional relationship.
Feedback: Servant leaders welcome feedback and criticism to improve and grow, but in a command-and-control setting, feedback is usually one-way, from the leader to the subordinate.
Leadership aim: Command-and-control leaders aim to drive efficiency and adherence to rules, while servant leaders aim to foster creativity, innovation, and personal growth.
Key Similarities Between Command-and-Control Leadership and Servant Leadership:
Goal achievement: Despite their differences, both leadership styles aim for the achievement of organizational goals.
Importance of the leader: Both models acknowledge the pivotal role of the leader in influencing team dynamics and organizational culture.
Accountability: In both leadership styles, the leader is accountable for the performance and actions of their team.
Role modeling: Both command-and-control leaders and servant leaders are expected to be role models for their team members.
Motivation: Command-and-control and servant leaders both utilize motivational techniques to inspire and drive their team to perform better.
Communication: In both models, clear and effective communication is important for
Rizvi goes on to delineate the positives and negatives of each.
Pros of Command-and-Control Leadership Over Servant Leadership:
Efficiency: In a command-and-control leadership setting, decisions are made quickly without requiring consensus, which can be more efficient in high-pressure situations.
Clearly defined roles: This leadership style offers clearly defined roles and responsibilities, minimizing ambiguity and confusion.
Strong control: Command-and-control leaders maintain a firm grip on all operations, minimizing the risk of undesirable deviations from plans.
Predictability: Due to its structured nature, command and control leadership tends to create predictable results, which can be beneficial in certain business environments.
Ideal for crisis situations: This leadership style can be particularly effective in emergency situations, where swift decision-making and clear directives are needed.
Ease of implementation: Command-and-control leadership can be easier to implement, especially in large organizations where hierarchical structures are already in place.
Cons of Command-and-Control Leadership Compared to Servant Leadership:
Lack of creativity and innovation: The top-down approach in command-and-control leadership can stifle creativity and innovation, which are often encouraged in a servant leadership environment.
Reduced employee morale: This leadership style can lead to low employee morale and motivation, as team members may feel their opinions and ideas are not valued.
Inadequate skill development: Command-and-control leadership doesn’t promote personal and professional development of team members as much as servant leadership does.
Risk of poor decision making: If the leader is not competent or lacks crucial information, the command-and-control leadership can lead to poor decision-making.
Resistance to change: Command-and-control environments may struggle with change, as this style doesn’t typically promote flexibility or adaptability.
Limited employee engagement: This leadership style may lead to less employee engagement, as it doesn’t typically foster a sense of ownership or autonomy among team members.
Dependency on the leader: Command-and-control leadership often creates dependency on the leader, which can leave the team vulnerable if the leader leaves or is unavailable.
Pros of Servant Leadership Over Command-and-Control Leadership:
Fosters creativity: Servant leadership encourages innovative thinking, allowing team members to explore and implement new ideas.
Promotes team development: This leadership style prioritizes the personal and professional growth of each team member.
Boosts morale and engagement: By valuing everyone’s input and showing care for team members, servant leaders tend to foster higher morale and engagement.
Improves decision-making: Collaborative decision-making often leads to better outcomes as it leverages diverse perspectives and experiences.
Builds stronger relationships: The emphasis on empathy and understanding in servant leadership often results in stronger, more trusting relationships within the team.
Increases adaptability: As servant leadership encourages flexibility and change, teams are typically more adaptable and better equipped to handle change.
Encourages social responsibility: Servant leaders often foster a strong sense of social responsibility within their teams, contributing to a more just and caring world.
Cons of Servant Leadership Compared to Command-and-Control Leadership:
Decision-making may be slower: Involving the entire team in decision-making can be time-consuming, especially when quick decisions are needed.
Risk of being perceived as weak: Some people may misinterpret servant leadership as a lack of authority or leadership strength.
Not suitable for all settings: Servant leadership may not work well in every context, particularly in highly structured or bureaucratic environments.
Requires high emotional intelligence: To be effective, servant leaders need to have high emotional intelligence, which not everyone may possess.
Challenging to implement: Implementing servant leadership can be challenging, particularly in traditional, hierarchical organizations.
Potential for imbalance: There’s a risk that servant leaders might focus too much on serving others and neglect their own needs or the overall goals of the organization.
Misunderstanding of role: There’s potential for confusion or misunderstanding of the leader’s role, as servant leaders often work alongside their team rather than in a clearly defined superior role.
Rizvi says that sometimes command-and-control leadership serves the situation better. In situations where quick decision-making is critical, such as during emergencies or crises, command-and-control leadership can be more effective. The military or similar hierarchical organizations often require strict order and discipline, making command-and-control leadership the preferred choice. When tasks need to be completed within a short timeframe, the swift decision-making of command-and-control leadership can be more advantageous. If a team lacks necessary skills or experience, a command-and-control leadership style can help provide clear instructions and guidance. In environments where mistakes can have severe consequences, the command-and-control style, with its tight control over tasks, can be beneficial. For repetitive or routine tasks that require little creativity, this leadership style can help increase efficiency and consistency.
On the other hand, sometimes servant leadership is distinctively better. For industries that require innovation and creative thinking, such as technology or marketing, servant leadership can foster the necessary environment. Servant leadership, with its emphasis on team development and collaboration, often works well for projects with a long-term focus. When leading a team of experienced and skilled professionals, servant leadership can help maximize their potential and contributions. In sectors where change is the norm, the flexibility and adaptability promoted by servant leadership can be an advantage. If an organization is trying to shift its culture toward more openness and collaboration, servant leadership can help guide that transition. For activities aimed at fostering better relationships and team cohesion, servant leadership can create an inclusive and supportive environment. Servant leadership often aligns well with the values of non-profit organizations that prioritize service and community building.
In the world of leadership, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The choice between command-and-control leadership vs. servant leadership isn’t about which one is better overall, but which one is better suited for a specific situation. Your understanding and adaptability as a leader are what will drive your team to success. Your willingness to be a servant is vital.