This article contains a few real-life commanding leadership examples from my career as a CEO. I hope you find these commanding leadership examples interesting and that you can utilize my experiences in your favor. Before we get to the examples, I will give you a short introduction to commanding leadership to set the scene. If you already know about the style, then scroll down for the commanding leadership examples.
Commanding Leadership, Intro
A commanding leader makes all the decisions and gives orders to his or her team. Tight control and follow-up combined with high clarity in rules, roles, and expectations are key elements of Commanding leadership. This style can be efficient in low-skilled teams and when decisions must be made very quickly. This style can lead to micromanagement, which is detrimental to employee engagement, especially in highly skilled teams in complex environments.
The commanding leadership style was presented as one of the six leadership styles by Daniel Goleman back in 2000 and is also known as coercive or directive leadership. This style is similar to autocratic leadership but with a foundational difference: it is meant to be applied rarely and in a controlled fashion, whereas autocratic leadership is more of a permanent state and behavior. (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each leadership style.)
Commanding leadership has relatively many similarities with the telling leadership style from the Situational Leadership model, although the long-term intent is different. Houses Path-Goal Theory from 1971 also contains a directive leadership style. (You can read more about the situational leadership model and more than 25 other styles in our leadership styles portal.)
Advantages of the Commanding Leadership Style:
- Increased clarity on roles, expectations, and rules, beneficial for low skill teams
- Confidence and decisiveness, especially useful in times of crisis
Disadvantages of the Commanding Leadership Style:
- High dependency on the leader, who also need to know how to perform all jobs and tasks in detail
- Morale, motivation, and engagement are low, and work climates can become toxic
- Creativity and participation is minimal
For more in-depth information on this leadership style, read our article here: Commanding Leadership Style.
Commanding Leadership Examples from Business
Here are two examples of commanding leadership from my career:
- Commanding leadership as a response to non-performance
- Commanding leadership when preferred by a team member
Commanding leadership example: As a response to non-performance
A few years ago, I had a senior business leader who showed signs of low performance. This person showed a lot of silo thinking and spent a lot of time blaming other departments rather than solving any emerging problems. When concrete improvement areas were discussed in the team, this person often resorted to cliché type responses and generalizations. This leader seemed to stay vague and general whenever possible on purpose.
After a while, I realized this leader also lacked a proper plan since the long-term thoughts changed very often. One week, I was told additional resources were needed in logistics, only to hear that the only required recruitments were in the sales department a few weeks later. This set of a few alarms ringing in my head basically stating that this leader might not really know what to do or have any plan at all.
Months later, a relatively widespread customer issue started surfacing, and it landed in this leader’s organization which had to improve the situation and solve the matter long term. As the leader presented a plan to the team, it contained obvious flaws. So, the leader was sent back with the task to improve the plan and make it more robust.
During the next month, I spent some time discussing the issue one-on-one with this person, trying to provide additional perspectives, advice, support, etc. Sadly, at the next meeting, new flaws and holes had emerged in the plan.
As this happened a third time, I had to become much more commanding. I told the person straight out what needed to be done, when it should be done, and to an extent also how it should be done. Still, performance was inadequate, although slightly higher, thanks to several weekly follow-ups on progress.
In the end, the task had to be transferred to another person, who diligently resolved this complex problem relatively quickly.
I went through the cycle of starting out with an overarching goal in a democratic leadership style, went through coaching leadership, and finally ended up with commanding leadership. It didn’t work. As I reflected on this later, my conclusion was that the person should not have been given that many chances. I picked up on personality problems and competency problems, but I wanted to believe in this person a bit longer than I should have. However, that is easy to see afterward and much more difficult to establish early before things develop.
There have been similar cases when I have felt forced to push towards commanding leadership to get things back on track that have worked better. In those cases, a short push with commanding leadership has gotten things going, and I have fallen back to more long-term leadership styles such as visionary leadership and democratic leadership again. Both of these styles are part of the six leadership styles by Goleman.
Commanding leadership example: When preferred by a team member
Even longer back in my career, I had a direct report that had been promoted beyond his ability, to be honest. His competency was inadequate for the task, and his confidence in performing his duties was very low. I concluded that this was not good for the organization and definitely not good for the individual either.
I set out on a coaching leadership adventure and tried to increase the skill level as well as widen the horizon for this guy. We spent a lot of time discussing different angles, the importance of the different parts of his job description, how to empower him further and build his confidence. I was hoping to assist him in reaching success so he would get in a circle of positive reinforcement. I tried multiple leadership styles trying to achieve this. (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each of the Goleman leadership styles.) I was sure I could empower him and develop him into a more decisive person. At least, that is what I had in mind. It turned out differently.
After a few months of this, performance went up, and prioritization was handled in a better way. Still, this guy came to me for guidance on rather trivial issues. I kept asking him how he would handle it, and after hearing him out, I stated that it sounded like a great idea and that he should continue as suggested. Still, there was no visible improvement in his confidence. Every time he came for guidance, I learned more about him. Even though he got my support, he was often concerned, worried, and nervous. I figured I would give something else a try. The next time he came, I told him what I wanted him to do and how to do it in a few brief sentences. He smiled, thanked me, and ran off to execute. This happened repeatedly.
I finally concluded that this man did not want to make decisions if he could avoid it. I have rather high requirements on my team members being capable of decision making, and I empower people a lot. This was totally in the other direction of my normal way of working. However, I noticed how performance was improved, and perhaps even more importantly, I noticed how this man looked less stressed and seemed to enjoy his work more. So, whatever works. Leading is about getting the job done and the people to perform. I needed to be the leader he needed me to be, not the leader I preferred to be. I continued being politely and empathetically commanding with him for as long as we worked together and never regretted it.
Do remember that coaching leadership should be used sparingly as it is detrimental to your organizational climate. You should use the other five styles in the framework by Goleman, and not solely rely on commanding leadership. The other styles are visionary, affiliative, pacesetting, democratic, and coaching leadership, which can all be found in our article on the six leadership styles by Goleman. Read more about commanding leadership here: Commanding leadership, what is it, pros, cons, famous leaders. To widen your horizons further, I suggest you learn of transformational, servant, spiritual, charismatic, bureaucratic, and twenty other styles by visiting our leadership styles portal. (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each of the Goleman leadership styles.)