Negative Impacts and Unintended Consequences of Command and Control Leadership

I recently discovered a great tool for causal loop modelling of systems, called Kumu. It makes it easy to model issues and start to identify intervention levers for that thing a lot of us want – making the world a better place and having a positive impact.

I decided to start on systems modelling in Kumu with a topic I believe impacts many people – power dynamics in the workplace, and specifically the negative impacts of command and control leadership. As a leadership coach and agile coach, I’m constantly looking for ways to help both individuals and groups tap into their greatest potential and play big.

I work with talented people are are ready to grow. Ready for change. Ready to make a positive impact on the world. I lead a group of transformation coaches, and we work to bring positive change to individual leaders and teams. Uses or abuses of power in the workplace have to do with a core issue I care about, which is rank and power, whether in people’s professional lives or personal lives. I care about this topic because it deeply affects people in many ways, both positive and negative.

What you will see in the map below are some causal loops that reveal sometimes invisible consequences of command and control leadership, especially when it is unconscious. And generally the higher we rise in the ranks, the less conscious we become about the impacts of rank. And the more important it becomes for us to wake up to that. It is naive to try to causally link most issues to one bad leader, but at the same time, a good leader can do a lot of good and a bad leader can do a lot of harm. Leaders are the architects of culture in many ways, and responsibility and ethical imperatives come with leadership in my view.

How to read this map is to start at the center, with the picture of the command and control leader. Then going in the order of the numbered loops, like B1, follow the arrows. For a “+” sign, say, “adds to,” or “goes up / same direction,” and for a “-” sign, say “subtracts from” or “goes down / opposite direction.”

“B” means a balancing loop, and R means a reinforcing loop. A balancing loop is a goal-seeking pattern. It keeps rebalancing itself. A reinforcing loop indicates a pattern where something keeps getting bigger, like unmitigated growth, or where something keeps getting smaller, or shrinking without another variable to redirect or stop it. So here’s the map, and once I learn Kumu better, I’ll add a video with me narrating to make it more clear.


neg impacts command control leadership


Common Leadership Goals and Growth Areas

In the leadership program I lead, one of the coaching options I offer leaders a coaching approach called Stakeholder Centered Coaching, based on the work of Marshall Goldsmith.

Both leaders and executives like it because it brings measurable, visible growth through participants choosing tangible behavioral leadership goals, then asking their colleagues, “How am I doing?” then doing success measurements. Throughout the coaching engagement, the participants do a 360, identify a goal, then on a regular basis over six months or so, ask their stakeholders for both feedback and suggestions on a regular basis, eg, “So Joe, how’d I do in the last 30 days  on my goal of becoming a better listener?” and “What can I do in the coming 30 days to get even better?” Then you measure progress at the end by asking stakeholders to fill out a 3 point scale.

Leaders who succeed in this approach usually have three traits: courage, humility and discipline.

  • Couragous in communicating to others what they’re working on, asking others for feedback and “Feed-Forward” / suggestions, and in taking an honest look at what behaviors they would benefit from stopping, starting or changing.
  • Humble in asking others for help, truly listening, showing appreciation and keeping ego in check.
  • Disciplined in sticking to their monthly routine of following up with those they’ve asked to help them grow, in managing defensive reactions with emotional intelligence, translating stakeholder Feed-Foward to concrete change actions and actually doing them, often with the help of a coach.

Here are some common topics leaders choose to work on. If you are a stakeholder looking at this page, this list is to jog your thinking and give you ideas on feedback and Feed-Forward to give, in response to the leader 360 you are filling out. Thanks for supporting a leader’s growth!

Below I also share typical habits that hold leaders back from progressing to the next place in their career. This is a “juicy” list which is a little embarrassing for me because I’ve been guilty of most of these. But it’s also juicy in the sense that once you see the habits on this list, they become easier to swat out of your way, like a pesky fly. Marshall Goldsmith famously wrote, “What got you here won’t get you there,” and this is certainly true of this “20 Habits” list. In the Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence for Leaders program I run, we talk about vehicles to Leadership EQ, and recognizing even one of these habits can be a powerful vehicle for leadership growth.

Finally you can see typical leadership skills we learn and practice in leadership cohorts. I determine which skills to include based on the needs and interests of the cohorts, since we take an agile “adjust and adapt” approach with relentless delivery and improvement.

High quality leadership matters more than ever in our world today. So thanks for reading this blog, and I hope it was useful to you in some way!


Most Worked On Leadership Behavioral Goals. 1

20 Habits That Hold People Back (aka 20 Common Emotional Intelligence Development Areas). 1

Leadership Cohort Skill List. 2


Most Worked On Behavioral Goals in  Leadership Coaching
(Sample from 8000 people at over 1000 companies on 4 continents)[i]


Treat others with respect

Build trust

Listen to different points of view with an open mind before giving my opinion

Delegate more effectively

Stand up to individuals who undermine teamwork

Deal with performance problems in a timely manner

Develop executive presence

Address conflict in a timely and constructive manner

Collaborate with others

Develop and link team strategy to business strategy

Stand up for what I believe in

Hold others accountable

Present with self-confidence

Focus on the critical few issues

Become more assertive

Take appropriate risks

Build cross functional relationships

Become a better coach and mentor

Match my leadership style to the specific needs of others

Present my point of view persuasively

Become more decisive


20 Habits That Hold People Back

The need to win at all costs and in all situations: When it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.

Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents in every discussion.

Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make a sound sharp and witty.

Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However:” The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right, you’re wrong.”

Telling the world how smart you are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.

Speaking with anger: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.

Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”” The need to share our negative thoughts even when we were not asked.

Withholding information: The refusal to share information with others to gain advantage over them.

Failing to give proper recognition: the inability to praise or reward.

Claiming credit we do not deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contributions to any success:

Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as permanent fixtures so people excuse us for it.

Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto people and events in our past; a subset to blaming everyone else.

Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly, and failing to see the negative impact that brings to the organization and teams.

Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.

Not listening: The most passive – aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.

Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.

Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are only trying to help.

Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves; the failure to take responsibility.

An excessive need to be “me:” Exalting our faults as virtues simply “because they are who we are.”

Skills Covered in Leadership Program

Skill Core?
Acknowledgment x
Action / accountability – request it, hold them to it x
Alignment: spotting misalignment, helping people align around a common purpose
Creating High Flourishing Teams through Positivity, Curiosity, Advocacy and “The Losada Ratio”
Decision Making, eg Force Field Analysis
Design the Alliance (w individual or group) x
Difficult Conversations/Conflict Resolution (eg, Team Toxins and Antidotes, Four Horsemen of Hell and ways to enlist them as Allies) x
Dream Behind the Complaint
Emotional intelligence (Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Internal motivation, Empathy, Social Skills) x
Facilitation – Constellations
Generating Forward Momentum / Strategic Work – “Best Hope, Worst Fear”
Giving Feedback (aka “How to give impact feedback and still preserve the relationship”) x
Listening – Intuitive Listening (aka “Level III Listening,” “Environmental Listening,” or “Quantum Listening”) x
Listening (Active Listening / “Level II Listening”) x
Meet them where they are x
Metaphor for powerful communication x
Metaskills (casting a deliberate EF into the room, eg collaboration, fun. Like casting a spell or spraying perfume into a room x
Mindfulness Practices as foundations of both high performance and Emotional Intelligence, eg Google’s Search Inside Yourself course x
Name – It – holding up a mirror to conversation partner that helps them see what they couldn’t before, and start to shift
Negotiation: Interest Based negotiation (where everyone wins) versus Position Based Bargaining (where there’s a winner and a loser)
Powerful Questions – leadership catalyst for opening up new choices and momentum x
Range and Embodiment
Reveal the System to Itself (hold up a mirror to the other person or group – awareness is seed of change) x
Storytelling for Leaders x
Yes and x




[i] Credits to Marshal Goldsmith


Transformation Calls For Organizational Change Skills as Well As Agile Content Coaching

Today a lot of companies want agile. They know their competitors are using it for competitive advantage, and they want to keep up and excel. So they often go out and hire agile coaches. The challenge here is that while many agile coaches possess strong agile experience, they sometimes don’t have the specific skill set to bring about organizational behavior change. This is what the field of organizational psychology calls OD – organizational development. I believe that effective agile coaching needs both, to the degree it’s actual transformational work, that becomes sustainable and baked into a company’s DNA.
I believe you need the right tool for the right job. There’s some kind of saying about a hammer and a nail, I guess that if you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. If you are an agile content coach without OD skills, then everything looks like you can address it by simply teaching or explaining. I used to believe that, when I led my first major organizational transformation effort in 2003. I explained myself blue in the face, then got confused about why the change effort failed, even though everyone said they wanted it.
Behavior change, especially behavior change of an organizational system, does not happen as a result of explaining something. I can explain all I want that the gym is over there, and that they have good classes, but that won’t get you going there regularly for the next 10 years. 
The purpose of this blog is to empower agile coaches and the companies they serve to enable sustainable transformation. This goes far beyond learning how to do agile, even the very best of agile, such as things like learning loops, empirical process control, self organizing teams, servant leader models, and community-based change. It’s much more.
What’s that more? It’s a way of both being and doing that effectively facilitates transformational shifts. 
How this blog seeks to make transformation accessible is by sharing stories of success, failure, the related learnings, and the approaches that facilitate change. These stories offer not only a body of knowledge and a collection of techniques, but more importantly, ways of being – with organizational systems wanting change, and with oneself as servant-leader. These stories bring both the “Do” and the “Be” as an integrated approach to transformation, which companies and coaches wanting change can use in real life business situations. 
Inviting transformation through this combination of “Do” and “Be” holds at its center a real presencing of the organizational system’s agenda. And helps to unfold the best possible future around that agenda and beyond. This type of approach is far more than techniques or skills. Instead, it’s about becoming present, noticing what’s trying to happen in organizational systems, and inviting that to unfold. 
This is a movement that for me is guided by several important metaskills, such as respect and kindness. A metaskill is a stance the change agent takes, that impacts the emotional field of the system a coach is working with. It’s like a perfume you spray into a room or a spell you cast. Respect and kindness as metaskills serve as beacons guiding an awareness that change and growth that is wanting to happen in every organizational system and team. And so this set of writings I aim to help organizational systems dream big, to reach for what’s possible, and to make those dreams reality.

St. Paddy’s Day Lessons for Transformation Coaching

Today I’m thinking about systems entry. With warmth and welcome. I’m a transformation coach who works with organizations and teams who want something more for themselves. Each team is a system, in the sense that it’s a collection of interrelated parts sharing a common purpose. Systems entry refers to the way a coach approaches and forms a working relationship with coachees.

So this past Tuesday was St. Paddy’s day. And in Chicago that means something. A lot, in fact. As in, everyone nips down to the nearest Irish pub for lively music and Irish dancers, and then to the St. Paddy’s day parade down by the Chicago River, which has now been dyed green.

I found myself drawn, as if by leprechaun magic, to the nearest Irish pub to meet my friend Susie. I got there early and parked myself at the bar to wait. A red-headed guy nearby toasted me as I sat down, then generously sang, “Sweet Molly Malone.” Mercifully, Susie arrived five minutes later, and we settled in to enjoy.

But the guy at the bar felt left out, apparently. He sized up Susie (who happens to be a triathlete and beautiful), laid a beefy hand on her shoulder and boomed, “Hi, I’m Mike. Wanna get married?”

You can imagine the response.

Systems entry is like that. If you go too fast, the system won’t let you in. Or it bounces you out in short order. Efficiently and promptly, like Susie bounced poor Mike.

But if the coach approaches the system with warmth and welcome (and I would add kindness since that’s a core value of mine), the system is more likely to warm up to you. A “soft start up” in the words of John Gottman, author of the well-respected book, “The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work.”

Warmth and welcome served me well this past week. I delivered a four day transformation workshop for a team splitting into two teams and expanding their horizons. In the true spirit of St. Paddy’s day, the group and I got face-to-face with each other, like me and Susie, to reconnect and ground ourselves.

We began by designing the coaching alliance between me and them, and then we designed the team alliance as their working agreements with each other. I asked them questions like:

  • “What’s the culture or atmosphere you want in your team?
  • “How will you know you have that?“
  • “What will make your partnership flourish?“
  • “How do you want to be together around conflict or times you disagree?“
  • “And hey, two of your peers have now been promoted to be your new managers, so how do you want to be together around rank and privilege so it doesn’t turn into rank and revenge?”

These can be loaded questions, though important ones. Approaching them slowly, at the pace the system was ready for made all the difference. And the system gave me feedback when I went too fast or risked stepping over things that needed to not be stepped over.

For example, when I asked, “How does this group want to be together around conflict?” they quickly responded, “We never disagree. We always agree. We get along really well.”

My Harry Potter sneakoscope started spinning. I ignored my internal warning voice watching the clock, and instead, I invited them to unfold the statement “We never disagree.” (How is that humanly possible, I wondered).

And presto. The magic of systems coaching. They showed me something I never would have figured out without their help. It turns out that because this team is a crisis management team, the very nature of their work is that they don’t have the luxury to bicker. Instead, they regularly face situations where millions of users suddenly, for no apparent reason (gremlins?) cannot access business-critical financial systems. That means a core part of who they are in their working partnership is to collaborate quickly, efficiently and immediately, like a team of highly qualified surgeons performing emergency surgery on a critically injured Olympic athlete.

Pay dirt. Once we slowed down enough to articulate this aspect of their partnership, we were able to use that experience to articulate the essence and dreaming levels of this system. And to harvest from those a picture of the ideal culture they want in their team – which is to both honor and preserve the past history of high collaboration, as well as expand and grow their future possibilities.

I would have stomped right over that opportunity had I been clumsy like Mike in the bar with Susie – ”. . . Hi, I’m Mike. Ya wanna get married?”

Nobody likes the “Mikes” in life, and that includes the organizational systems we coaches work with. It’s natural and normal that the system started to bump me out when I showed signs of stepping over something that’s extremely important to them, which is their core identity as a highly collaborative SWAT team.

Sure, it’s occasionally embarrassing, both to me as a coach, and that dopey Mike on St. Paddy’s day, when we stumble, trying to build relationships without truly seeing the human beings right in front of us. Fortunately, both Susie and the team I coached last week both knew how to speak up for themselves about what’s important. And I knew how to get that heard.

The key difference between Mike and I was that I listened and he didn’t. My reward was getting enter into relationship with the system this week. Whereas poor Mike ended up nursing his drink at the end of the bar, sadly wondering why he was sitting alone. We’ve all been Mike in the past. And we’ve all been me, offering and receiving warmth and welcome.

To Mike. He may learn yet. Happy St. Paddy’s day.

Improv and Community Building: The Secret Ingredients for Organizational Transformation

Organizations today want transformation. They know that if they don’t constantly reinvent themselves, they die. This is a very different vision of the successful organization, than say, the commonly held idea of a strong company from the 1960s. Picture IBM. A strong company in the 1960s was a company like IBM, who had all of its accounting processes clearly defined. Everything in order and under control.

Today, nothing is under control. (And probably never has been. Control was likely an illusory story we were telling ourselves.) Allowing control to be the dominant paradigm only makes companies fail and leads to stagnation. Things are changing so fast with such great volumes of information in the business environment of 2015 that it’s not possible to keep ahead of your competitors, or even keep up. Instead of mere linear change, for organizations to flourish today, they need transformation. And not just any kind of transformation. It has to be exponential transformation. Transformation at the speed of imagination.

That’s where improv together with community building become a powerful catalyst and guide for change. As a leader of organizational transformation and a professional systems coach, I have found that using improv and community building approaches together brings transformation often in the blink of an eye. There is this exquisite moment that emerges in transformational work where something in the field shifts. When it happens it’s magic. We are all part of it. It’s like stepping into a flowing river and allowing what emerges to take shape.

Instant shifts are not news to people in the improv community. Well-loved artists such as Gilda Radnor, Joyce Piven, Tina Fey and many more know this well. But what’s been new for me has been not only bringing improv into corporate work, but the astounding results it produces when combined with powerful approaches available in community building and organizational coaching work, such as Arnold Mindell’s Process Work. The results have been shockingly delightful, explosive, sometimes slow and sometimes instantaneous.

There’s only one problem. Change is hard. It’s hard for individuals, and it’s hard for organizations. If you look at it in a certain way, even the human brain is wired against it. The brain initially processes new information as a potential threat to survival. We screen it as a possible threat to see if we need to respond to it in survival mode, as either fight, flight or freeze. And that’s how a lot of organizations act when confronted with change – they fight, they flee or they freeze. None of it is good for business. And none of it is good for people.

But change is constant. Change is a natural thing. Think about babies being born or trees dropping their leaves in the fall. We see change in the rhythms of nature, even the cycles of families, relationships and communities.

And there’s something else about change that nature teaches us (as well as Buddhism and Taoism). And that is that the nature of reality is that it is fundamentally interconnected. That applies to physical matter as well as human relationships and everything in between.

Think about what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Imagine a photon that is split, resulting in two photons which are now entangled. Let’s call them “Photon A” and “Photon B. Put “Photon A” into a high speed plane, and fly it to the other side of the planet. Then observe “Photon A.” What sometimes happens, is that ”Photon A,” in being observed, moves up. And strangely enough, it turns out that “Photon B” on the other side of the planet, moves down, at what appears to be the exact same instant. At the very least at a rate faster than the speed of light. What it means to exist, is to exist in relationship, whether you are a photon, a rock, or a human being.

My central idea is that improv and community building are a powerful dynamic duo for organizational transformation, or transformation of any system. Improv frees up fear. It sidesteps the amygdala. It shoves Fear out of the driver’s seat and replaces it with Curiosity and Exploration. And in doing so, improv frees us up to do what we are also neurologically wired to do – connect with each other. This is a hot topic right now in neurological research. We are not individual automatons or endlessly competing machines. The nature of what it is to be human is to seek and thrive on connection.

That’s where community building and the tools of organizational transformation come in. Community building connects people. And connected people pioneer change. It’s the Edge Walker’s, the Dreamers and the Risk-Takers coming together to take action around things they care about that lead to something new in organizational systems. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Think of the Berlin wall coming down, or the Egyptian revolution. These are human transformational events that arose naturally out of local community efforts coming together synergistically. It reminds me of the definition of a leader I heard recently which says that a leader is someone who sees something they care about and decides to do something about it. Communities and transformation are just that – groups of people who see something they care about, who come together to do something about it.

But I’m less interested in explaining this, and more interested in actually doing it with people. With communities, to be exact. When I coach, I intentionally create a space that is both safe and courageous to provide a container to hold whatever decides to arise and unfold. As Viola Spolin once said, “That which is not yet known comes out of that which is not yet here.” I tell groups, “I believe you already have what you need. And I believe that you are already naturally creative, resourceful and whole. My job is just to be the guide on the side, to help you unfold and expand your highest potential, which is 20 times more than that flimsy story you’re telling me.”

Those are pretty sounding words, and can fall into the trap of being just theoretical, unless something happens to make them real. That something is improv married to the techniques of organizational psychology and transformational work as a kind of presencing and facilitating what is trying to happen.  Improv provides a key ingredient in that success because it allows for action over stasis, creative arising over fear and an opening up into the wide open space of possibility.

So let’s play!

“Focus is a fresh start. The past is made to loosen its grip . . . Change is not enough. This body of work asks more: transformation.”

Viola Spolin