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Leaving command and control and stepping into authentic leadership

Big Think's founding CEO shares how she grew as a leader over 13 years, including why command-and-control leadership doesn't work in today's business world.

4 min read


Leaving command and control and stepping into authentic leadership

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Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by Victoria Montgomery Brown.

Leadership in business is not about command and control; that’s for the army. When I became the CEO of a startup in 2007, I mistakenly adopted the command-and-control type of leadership. Sure, I could get people to do things for me or the business and temporarily yield results, but to what end? Were people performing with enthusiasm, innovation or fear?

People need to want to be at the company in order to do their best for both themselves and the company. Having been in the position for 13 years, watching the company grow and ultimately be acquired, I’ve learned a thing or two about leading.

A business is not an army, and the concept of controlling will not get the best out of people. It’s a common misconception that successful CEOs tend to have the stereotypical qualities of unempathetic taskmasters focused almost entirely on performance and the bottom line. The majority of people don’t come to work just to get ordered around and sent home with a paycheck. Something about the company, its values, its ethos and its mission speaks to them — at all levels of the organization — or at least did when they started.

The job of the CEO is, in part, to manifest those elements and nurture them — understanding why they came to the organization, what they were initially passionate about, and regularly and openly communicating those reasons. Nurture the enlightenment of individual and organizational missions, and you won’t need to command and control anyone. And, while you’re at it, have some fun and encourage it in others.

What does that mean? For me, it’s enabling people to try new things, take on projects outside their roles, collaborate with folks in different parts of the organization and grow in ways not clearly (or perhaps even remotely) under their job description. Doing things by the norm will yield more of the same. More of the same may get you and your company left behind.

What’s that mean for me? I’ve found that my leading authentically — as in, being myself, not some stale version of what I thought a CEO should look like — yields the best results for the company and those in it. Plus, it’s way more pleasurable for me and anyone I work with.

Being “myself” means being nurturing those around me to catalyze performance and change. It means making myself available and being in the mix — being a part of the process, not just overseeing or judging the outcome. Separating yourself from your team will lead to miscommunication. Get in there, lead alongside your team, and show them you are a part of the mission.

Sure, there are times when you must take on the decision-making role; leadership manifests itself at different times in different ways. As a leader, you need to figure out what role you need to play in each situation.

Sometimes, being a boss just means being a vulnerable human being. 


Victoria Montgomery Brown is co-founder of Big Think, the knowledge company that makes people and companies smarter and faster through short-form video with the world’s best thinkers and doers. Since founding Big Think in 2007 and being CEO until its acquisition in 2020, Brown built the company from a fledgling thought-leadership media platform to the leading knowledge company for ideas and soft skills. She is the author of “Digital Goddess, The Unfiltered Lessons of a Female Entrepreneur,” published by HarperCollins Leadership. 

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