Who Killed the Workplace? Suspect # 1: Commander Control

Your intrepid detectives Norm, Jeff, and Lizabeth have been on The Case of the Murdered Workplace for some weeks now. It's time we shared what we've found thus far with you, the public, in the hopes that one of you will spot something, report it, and help us bring the perpetrator to justice.

The facts of the case are as follows:

The workplace, a previously reasonably healthy environment, was discovered to have joined the choir invisible in the summer of 2022. Witnesses report that in the months and years leading up to this time, something just wasn't right with the workplace. It seemed tense and irritable, often quite cold and unwelcoming. People began avoiding being around it, sometimes even seeking other employment just to get away from it. Some people were quite vocal in their condemnation of it on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor. Tongues wagged. Heated discussions were had. It seemed a lot of folks had it out for the workplace.

Your intrepid investigators launched The Fearless Workplace podcast to investigate this crime.

In our first episode, Jan Griffiths pointed the finger boldly at someone named Commander Control and shouted “J'Accuse!”. (Well, not really, but man, that would have been good pod….)

According to Jan, Commander Control leads by fear, terrorizing the workplace with his arbitrary and capricious demands. He undermines trust in order to satiate his pathological need for power and control. Whenever something goes awry, he assigns blame. Whenever something goes well, he takes credit. If you've heard phrases like “Crap rolls downhill”, “Rank has its privileges”, “Shut up and color”, and “Never outshine the master” in your workplace, you know Commander Control is creeping around somewhere.

Despite the impressive figure this bully presents, he does have his weaknesses.

First, he's old. He's been around since the beginning of human history, answering the call whenever a frustrated individual wishes there were some sort of strong individual to make all the decisions and simplify life. The illusion of control can be a very attractive thing to some people. But he's a one-trick pony: “Do as I say or else” is the only trick in his bag.

Second, he's limited by his ability to process information. Would you ever confide in a bully? Of course not! If you saw your tormentor walking down the street oblivious to an open manhole cover, you'd likely forget to warn him. People naturally keep him in the dark, fearing his wrath and blame game. This inevitably creates the blind spots which will bring his reign of terror to a halt.

Third, he's outnumbered. All it takes to depose him is for enough of us to not listen to him anymore. It doesn't require ALL of us, mind you. Malcolm Gladwell estimates the number to be about a third of us. At that point, the people Commander Control reports to will no longer be able to deny his ineffectiveness compared to other candidates for his job.

Fourth, he has an archnemesis. Jan kept referring to R. Thantic Leadership, an odd name but a very good alternative to Commander Control. People can't help but trust Leadership; she's the real deal. Unlike Commander Control, she doesn't bluster and pose. She stays cool, listens actively, and uses her empathy superpower to ensure open and honest conversation between all levels of an organization. This in turn empowers employees to do their best work, not out of fear of being fired or humiliated, but out of love and a sense of purpose. The surest sign R. Thantic Leadership is part of a company is that its employees are happy, calm, and productive.

At this time, we have no choice but to consider Commander Control our prime suspect in the death of the workplace, but we've only just begun to investigate. There may be conspirators or accessories to this murder we've yet to uncover. With the aid of a watchful public, we will succeed in bringing the murderer or murderers to justice. I'd bet my badge on it.

3 Replies
Norm Howe
74 Posts

“Shut up and color"!! LOL.

Janet Lentz
144 Posts

I wholeheartedly agree. “Growing up” in a C&C environment, it was absolute misery for a lot of people. It bred toxic bosses continuously. I never knew what a truly collaborative workplace was like until I finally left. I was fortunate enough to find several really great companies afterwards. I hope C&C workplaces quickly fade out.

@Jeffrey Veyera

Having been an officer in the US Navy, and on submarines (often described as "Management by Conflict') I want to make a slightly contrary point. It was just announced that a big round of punishment was being laid upon USS Bonhomme RIchard for FAILIING to take charge at the time of a crisis - a fire on the ship. The horrendous outcome in the Uvalde School Shooting also seems to revolve around the lack of someone taking command and getting the task DONE!

So, I'd like to point out where there are times of crisis (short term) where it may indeed be necessary for someone to be the Commander. Now, that Commander should take input from their team, but the Commander may need to take risks to push things forward. That can be done without humiliating the response team. But we should think about - at some times we do need the Commander. I believe the phrase is "situational leadership'. The Situational Leadership® Model | Center for Leadership Studies as an example.