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Stephen M. R. Covey | No More Command and Control: Building a Culture of Trust and Inspiration
Here is my weekly email with some insights and ideas pulled from conversations I had on my podcast.
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No More Command and Control: Building a Culture of Trust and Inspiration
For decades — centuries even — the overriding theme of workplace leadership was one of command and control. It was the clear definition of roles and seniority, which resulted in directions being passed down the chain with no room for questions or debate.
But as the workforce (and our world in general) has become more sophisticated, educated, and experienced, that leadership style is no longer effective. We’ve learned that it can actually stifle productivity and creativity.
So what is the alternative?
A recent guest of mine on the Success Story podcast was Stephen M.R. Covey. You may recognize the name, though it might not be who you think it is.
His father, Stephen R. Covey, wrote the massively influential leadership book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989. The younger Stephen would help market and sell that book, and leverage its popularity into building the Covey Leadership Center, of which he was CEO.
Now, he’s a best-selling author himself, and recently released Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others. We spoke for over an hour about the changing leadership landscape in business and how to create an effective culture of trust in the workplace.
You wouldn’t have blamed a young business student for taking a job on wall street or in real estate development, but Stephen turned down both of those paths to focus on a startup with his father.
By merging with Franklin Quest and making key strategic decisions along the way, the Covey Leadership Center (now known as FranklinCovey) grew from a $2.4 million valuation when he took over as CEO to more than $160 million.
Building another consulting business, CoveyLink, and then merging it as well, has continued to establish him as a thought leader in the field. You can tell how much passion he has from the moment he starts talking about his journey, and one quote from our interview stuck out to me.
“Here’s my question for you. Do you want to build buildings, or do you want to build people?”
A migration from command and control
When I asked Stephen what he sees in the world of leadership today, he pointed out that there hasn’t been that much change. Even as people discuss how command and control concepts are a thing of the past, they are still practiced in some fashion almost everywhere.
“Despite all our progress, we are still trapped a bit in the old command and control model. We’ve become better at it — more sophisticated, more advanced. I call it enlightened command and control, a lot better version of it. But still, we’re deeply scripted in our mindset, in our paradigm, that we too often treat people like things.”
Despite articles and studies claiming it dead, command and control remain in around nine out of ten organizations, says Stephen. It may not look the same as it traditionally has, but its principles are still rooted deep in our industries.
In its simplest terms, command and control is a leadership style that relies on a clear hierarchy, centralized power, and rules and procedures. It’s the kind of environment where people are afraid to make mistakes or ask questions for fear of being reprimanded.
In more sophisticated versions — what Stephen calls enlightened command and control — there is still a clear chain of command, but leaders try to create an environment where employees feel empowered to do their best work. There is more focus on collaboration and communication and less on rules and regulations.
The goal is to create a more engaged workforce, but Stephen doesn’t believe that even this pseudo-trusting style of leadership is effective in the long run.
The next frontier
He delivered some startling statistics. Referencing a publication from Bain & Company, Stephen pointed out that engagement should not be the end goal — inspiration should.
The research in this study found that a satisfied employee is 40% more productive than an unsatisfied one. That seems like common sense, as an unsatisfied employee would likely be doing anything they can to waste time or produce undesirable results.
It goes on to say that an engaged employee is 44% more productive than a satisfied one. That’s the number more businesses are targeting with their enlightened command and control methods. But still further is that an inspired employee is nearly 125% more productive than a satisfied one!
That means you would need around 2.25 satisfied employees for every inspired worker, a critical level that the best corporations in the world can aim for with a new leadership paragon.
How to change your culture
So how do you go about creating this new culture? Stephen calls them the three stewardships.
“Not only trustworthy but trusting,” explains Stephen. It isn’t just about creating an aura of reliability around yourself, as so many leaders try to do. It’s about being vulnerable and admitting when you don’t have all the answers.
This was a bit of a mind-shift for me, as I realized I often put up a wall of certainty, even when I wasn’t sure of something. This is the kind of behavior that creates an environment where people are afraid to ask questions or challenge authority, for fear of seeming less knowledgeable or competent.
Instead, we should be leaning into the discomfort of not knowing and encouraging others to do the same. This way, we can create an environment of learning where people feel safe to take risks, without fearing repercussions.
“To inspire comes from the Latin term inspirare which means to breathe life into. So you breathe life. Into relationships, into teams and organizations, into culture. You light the fire that’s within people. It’s internal, it’s intrinsic, it’s inside of them.”
You see, many companies and leaders conflate inspiration and motivation. But these are two very different things, and they come from different places. Motivation is an external force put upon something. It’s what happens when you offer someone a raise or a bonus to increase their output.
Inspiration, on the other hand, is an internal drive. It’s what happens when someone believes in the work they’re doing and wants to do it for its own sake. This is what we should be striving for as leaders, as it leads to sustainable engagement and higher-quality work.
Think about a time when you were truly inspired by something you were working on. Chances are, it didn’t feel like work at all. For me, it’s when I get to sit down with these amazing guests on the Success Story podcast. They are so thought-provoking that it doesn’t feel like an interview, but more like a conversation between friends.
When you can create that feeling in the workplace — when people are inspired by what they’re doing — it changes everything.
This is a learned skill, too. While some people in the world can inspire without practice, everyone can be taught practices and techniques to help inspire those around them.
The key is to remember that inspiration comes from within. It’s not something you can force or demand from someone. But if you can create an environment where people feel safe to be vulnerable, open, and honest, you’ll find moments of inspiration begin to happen organically.
While it isn’t in the title of his book, Stephen notes how modeling is just as critical as trust and inspiration. They are three branches of the same tree.
“Leaders go first.” To create this cultural change, there must be consistent, measurable examples from the senior leaders in a company. Their humility and courage, their integrity and character, their empathy and competence must all be put on display before you can expect employees to do the same.
It starts with recruitment
All of this — trust, inspiration, integrity — is something that you can find in the hiring process. If you are looking specifically for competence, it is all you will likely see. But the best companies emphasize character and authenticity in the interview room and then nurture those things in the board room.
“Manage things, lead people” are the words I’ll remember most from my talk with Stephen.
But we touched on so many other things than I’ve included here. We talked about growing up in his father’s shadow, the two career acts he went through to get where he is now, some examples of companies that have implemented these new ideas, and so much more.
If you want to check out the full interview (which I highly recommend), head over to the Success Story YouTube page, where we have hundreds of inspiring interviews.
For now, I’m going to go work on ways to make myself more trustworthy and vulnerable with colleagues. I’ll be back next week with another guest!
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Thank you for reading,