THE AGILE LEADER VS THE COMMAND AND CONTROL LEADER: WHO IS THE BEST IN A CRISIS?



The business environment for Australian business leaders recently has been challenging. From COVID-19 lockdowns, to the Australian bushfires and across to a declining economy, leaders in Australia are being tested now more than ever to guide their enterprises and teams through these disrupting times.

At the same time, there are many different ways to lead. But which is better in a crisis? Business leaders will have markedly different styles that can be successful in different ways.

To be clear, there is no one correct way to lead or manage. Ultimately the right way is the one that works for the organisation and the teams within the organisation in delivering the goals and services they deliver. For the sake of this blog, we have outlined two types of leadership styles we at AgileXperts see during this current economically trying time.

The two leadership styles contrasted are command-and-control leadership versus agile leadership. The command and control leader is goal-oriented, authoritative and decisive. He or she is well suited to a structured regime with clear tasks. The agile leader, on the other hand, is better suited to an ambiguous or fluid situation. He or she is much more focused on collaboration, innovation and helping the team to find new ways forward.

To contrast, we’ve listed the traits below:

Command and Control Leader:

  • Leads from the front;

  • Checks, directs and controls;

  • Has a strong sense of purpose and direction;

  • Prioritises reactive-operational over proactive-strategic;

  • Gives directions;

  • Rewards numbers and performance metrics;

  • Often positions themselves as the Leader and that they know best;

  • Minimises risks; and

  • Abhors failure. Failure is NOT an option.

The Agile Leader:

  • Leads indirectly, as the “go-to” person who can enable their team to succeed;

  • Trusts, delegates and seeks scalable collaboration;

  • Finds new approaches and questions “why” of decisions;

  • Has a clear vision and communicates it;

  • Prioritises proactive strategy rather a reactive operational approach;

  • Asks questions, encourages feedback and collaborative decisions;

  • Rewards innovation and entrepreneurial action;

  • Takes calculated risk; and

  • Promotes a ‘fail-fast’ work culture.

Each leadership style has a role to play in the specific industry, team or environment that they work in. There are times when you need take command and there are times when you need to empower. The command-and-control leader’s approach is perfect for dealing with chaotic environments, where everyone sticking together and following a single path behind the leader provides protection and safety. However, the micro-managing theme of the command and control leadership position does not scale in large remote enterprises.


Employees work better when they collaborate and feel included in the decision making process versus a command-and-control directive.


In today’s fast moving, global pandemic environment we need to supplement conventional approaches with more of the skills from the agile playbook. Why is this? Well, when pressure is applied – such as a global pandemic or economic fallout, businesses will find that performance improves when agile behaviours such as self-management are encouraged during a high-pressure time .


Allowing staff to develop their own solutions for problems will invariably lead to better outcomes, ownership of the solution by team members, and more motivation of the team. Agile philosophy reinforces that nothing is perfect, and so perpetual incremental improvement of any implemented process or product is guaranteed. This ongoing improvement facet is why delivering something that is 80% right is acceptable for most applications in agile – you know it will continue to be improved over time.


Studies from a recent McKinsey article quotes these case studies on agile enterprises that performed well during crisis by using agile principles and methodologies:

  • A global electronics enterprise delivered $250 million in EBITDA, and 20 percent share price increase over three years by adopting an agile operating model with its education-to-employment teams;

  • A global bank reduced its cost base by about 30 percent while significantly improving employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and time to market;

  • A basic-materials company fostered continuous improvement among manual workers, leading to a 25 percent increase in effectiveness and a 60 percent decrease in injuries.

Source: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-five-trademarks-of-agile-organizations

Employees work better when they collaborate and feel included in the decision making process versus a command-and-control directive. Even more so with today’s remote workforce – there is a growing desire for employees to feel connected to their workplace, to their team and to the wider company goals. That connection is built on the fundamentals of an agile work culture, and opposingly, that connection is burnt when overruled by command and control.


REGISTER FOR OUR UPCOMING WEBINAR: