Friday, May 11, 2007

In Command and Out of Control

Maybe I don't get out much, but I just ran across the phrase "in command and out of control" for the first time while reading Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. I was immediately struck at how well that describes my idea of good management, and the style of management to which I aspire. Here's the paragraph from the book:

Van Riper carried this lesson with him when he took over the helm of the Red Team. "The first thing I told our staff is that we would be in command and out of control," Van Riper says, echoing the words of the management guru Kevin Kelly. "By that I mean that the overall guidance and the intent were provided by me and the senior leadership, but the forces in the field wouldn't depend on intricate orders coming from the top. They were to use their own initiative and be innovative as they went forward. Almost every day, the commander of the Red air forces came up with different ideas of how he was going to pull this together, using these general techniques of trying to overwhelm Blue Team from different directions. But he never got specific guidance from me of how to do it. Just the intent.

From Blink, Malcolm Gladwell, 2005, page 118

This is clearly a military example, and Van Riper is Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, United States Marine Corps, retired. But even though "command and control", or in the case "in command and out of control" may have military roots, I still find it compelling and highly applicable beyond that context. The phrase fits well with my own mental image of my management style, in which I try to point out where we need to end up, but leave it up to the individuals in my group to chart their own path to the objective.

I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that the management guru is this Kevin Kelly.

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