The Urban Legend of Command and Control Management

An email arrived the other day; it was a request for assistance from a person who is gathering research for his Master’s study program. His thesis will explore, in part, a study of the demise of the command-and-control management style. I was happy to supply the information he sought.

After sending the email, I found myself wondering, “Haven’t we been talking about the death of Command and Control for a really long time?”  If indeed “command-and-control” is a dated and ineffective business management practice1 shouldn’t it have given up the ghost by now?

If command-and-control management is so bad, why is it still here?

To be sure, there are many plausible and erudite explanations to that question. Today, I’m taking it in a different direction.  My cynical side is wondering, what if command and control in the workplace isn’t dying—what if it’s (gasp!) thriving? What if the reports that it’s unfashionable, outdated and ineffective are an Urban Legend?

With that in mind, I offer you (with tongue firmly planted in cheek) my 5 Reasons That Command and Control Management Has Yet to Die:

  1. It’s fun to say. Let’s face it, the phrase has a nice alliterative ring to it—“command and control” just flows off the tongue.
  2. Everyone loves an underdog. Now that the management style has garnered such continual negative press, it’s achieved a sort of perverse underdog status.  And who doesn’t love to cheer for the dark horse?
  3. It’s an easy target. Like Motherhood and Apple Pie, there are just some things that are difficult to criticize, like management by consensus-building. If there wasn’t Command and Control, who else would we blame for our miserable conditions at work?
  4. Dilbert cartoons wouldn’t be nearly as funny.  ‘Nuf said.
  5. Because I said so. Well, it works for Command-and-Control; I thought it might be persuasive here too.


So there you have it, my Friday musings on why we’re still heralding the death of the Command-and-Control management method. As they say, there’s truth in jest, so maybe there’s a kernel of reality in my reasons. Or, maybe note. In any case, it does appear that the reports of the technique’s death have been greatly exaggerated2.

What say you? Why do you think that we’re still talking about the death of command-and-control?

1 This post refers to the general term “command-and-control” as a management technique in the business world rather than “command-and-control” as a military technique.

2 This is a paraphrase of the often-quoted Mark Twain quip, “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  Interestingly, this quote is a sort of urban legend as well.

Photo credit: © ODV

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