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Command and control or influence and inspire?

'Coach Kriengsak, the latest report of our employee engagement survey showed that our knowledge workers are not happy with the leadership style of my executive team."

"Khun Somchai, tell me more."

"I have seven department heads reporting to me. The staff in five of those are not very highly engaged with their work. I believe this is because of the command and control (C&C) styles of the department heads," he says. "Only two of our department heads lead properly by influencing and inspiring (I&I). Our goal is for every head to adopt the I&I style."

"What are the common characteristics of the five department heads?"

"Three of them have an industrial background and two a military background. The three used to lead large groups of semi-skilled workers in export manufacturers so they relied a lot on process and quality control. So to ensure that people follow work instructions on the production line, command and control seemed a suitable style.

"On the other hand, for the two with the military background, it's obvious that command and control is the only way that the military leads its troops."

"Khun Somchai, what is your plan?"

"I think I need to start by creating awareness among the five heads."

"How will you do that?"

He shows me a book he's been reading, Management Challenges for the 21st Century by Peter F Drucker. He reads from it: "Knowledge workers have to be managed as if they were volunteers. They are paid, to be sure. But knowledge workers have mobility. They can leave. They own their 'means of production', which is their knowledge."

"What's the implication there?"

"It means we can no longer use the C&C style to lead knowledge workers. We have to lead with I&I instead."

"Point taken. What's next?"

"I think I will call all seven department heads to meet me tomorrow, and I'll show them the results of the engagement survey. Then, I'll let them know that our people want to be led in a new way but the majority of us still use the C&C approach. I'll use the quote from Peter Drucker to emphasise why I&I is needed now."

"That's great Khun Somchai. Then?"

"Coach, this alone won't change them. What do I need to do next?"

"You are creating awareness and that's good, but what you also need to do is help them understand what beliefs they hold that have driven them to use C&C. What beliefs do they hold that cause them to lead this way?"

"Coach, I think they have these beliefs:

People are the same. We have common sense. Hence, we can command to achieve the same output.

People need to be commanded because they don't have initiative.

People need to be controlled, because they will take advantage whenever they are not monitored."

"How do you want them to believe?"

"I will propose a new set of beliefs:

People are unique individuals.

Each person has a unique way of taking initiative individually.

People with a clear purpose in life will be self-motivated."

"What evidence can you supply to support those new beliefs?"

"I will give them two books: Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Don Clifton, and Quiet Leadership by David Rock.

"The first book reveals the brain research shows humans have 34 talents. Each one of us has a different and unique pattern of talent 'themes'. The chance we will meet someone with the same thinking pattern as ours is only 1 in 33 million.

"The author of Quiet Leadership, meanwhile, discusses how research reveals the uniqueness of each brain. Each one of us is 'wired' differently. The way we solve the same problem will be as unique as an individual map. Think of it this way: if you give me a map of Phuket when I'm driving in Chiang Mai, I won't be able to go to my destination. The key learning point here is to create conditions where our employees can find their own solutions to solve problems by influencing and inspiring, not by command and control."

"Okay Khun Somchai, once they have the new beliefs, what's next?"

"At that point, I think I need to coach each individual according to his or her individual preferred coaching style."

"All right. Let's stop here and follow up your first step in the next session."

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at