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The End of the Command and Control Leader?

By: Mary Werner, CPA, MOD, Big4 Guest Blogger  

“In these troubled and uncertain times, we don’t need more command and control; we need better means to engage everyone’s intelligence in solving challenges and crises as they arise.”

~Margaret Wheatley

Command and control leaders. You love to hate them. These leaders are the “my way or the highway” type where the phrase “Just Do It” takes on quite a different meaning than Nike ever intended. But the reality is that this form of leadership has been the long standing default style for many leaders in our Firms and Corporations.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had the “pleasure” to work with more than a couple command and control type leaders in my years as a practicing CPA.  And my experience is consistent with the research on the negative impact of this leadership style:

No Flexibility – “My way or else.”

No Clarity  – “I only know what not to do.”

No Responsibility – “Just doing my job.”

No Commitment – “I’m just looking out for myself.”

But there is great news coming from a research study of 1,700 CEOs recently completed by IBM. The study reported that these leaders clearly see that the command and control leadership style is outdated and ineffective.

The implications are clear for the CPA profession as well. It’s time for Partners and Managers to move off this outdated and non-productive leadership style and embrace the leadership style that engages, inspires and aligns their professionals to outstanding performance and results. New behaviors can be learned and when CPA leaders see the positive impact on the bottom line, they’ll be more motivated than ever to shift their approach.

A New Era of Openness and Collaboration

The study also revealed what CEOs are looking for in employees, another clue that we’re moving in a direction that’s more open and collaborative. These CEO respondents want to recruit and hire people who excel at working in open, complex, and team-based environments. Highly valued skills are collaboration (75 percent), communication (67 percent), creativity (61 percent) and flexibility (61 percent).

It’s a new day and Firm and Corporate leadership must change with it.

How about you? What is your experience with “Command and Control” leaders? How do you see your leadership style shifting in today’s complex business environment?

To your success,


Mary C. Werner, CPA, MOD is the founder of Werner Coaching and Consulting, Inc., an executive coaching and organizational change consulting firm.  Mary was formerly with Ernst & Whinney (now E&Y) and Partner with Plante & Moran.  She is also a founding member of  The CPA Consultants’ Alliance, a working group of thought leaders unified in their efforts to further leadership in the accounting profession.  Mary, a certified executive coach through The Hudson Institute, is especially skilled at coaching and consulting with CPAs and other business professionals who are interested in accelerating their personal and professional growth for breakthrough results. She blogs regularly about leadership and change in individuals, firms and organizations.


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