The 5+ Cs of Chairing
Control and Command, or Communicate, Consult and Collaborate? There are other ‘Cs of Chairing’ too, but what do all these terms tell us about how modern organisations and people see the world?
It used to be quite easy. If you were Chair(man – most of them were male) of a meeting or organisation, you sat there and issued directions and edicts as prescribed.
That role of course still exists, especially in legal some other formal contexts. But these days there tends to be a lot more to it than that.
People in general are not so willing to go along with being told what to do. They question things. As a Chair you have to establish your authority in more ways than simply being appointed or elected: you have to show others that you know what you’re doing, and why.
This applies particularly in political and community contexts. Chairs may well need to use a Command and Control style in the military or a legal situation, but they will need to show leadership of another kind if they want to take things forward successfully in situations where those involved are not obliged to be there.
Communicate, Consult and Collaborate may well be a more effective method than Command and Control to make progress, when individuals in a group can opt out at least as easily as they opt in.
There are of course snags in this newer approach: how can you be sure to get things done? But on the whole Command and Control probably in reality also produced only a fraction of the effect that ideally orders might have – if people want to be difficult, they will always find ways to be so.
I suspect nonetheless that the issue of what people actually expect from a Chair has become more critical in relatively recent times, having particular impact for, say, voluntary organisations or political parties. ‘The troops’ still need, from the organisation’s perspective, to be put in place at strategic points in time, and they need to be marshalled in sufficient numbers to have impact. In order to achieve this, should the Contemporary Chair issue Orders, or would it be better to Coax and Cajole?
Resolution of this dilemma can present a challenge, unless sufficient preparatory work has been done. A Chair (whether of a small voluntary group or of a massive national organisation) who understands that individual members need consistently to be valued and informed, is more likely when the crunch comes to be effective than one who has forgotten these fundamentals.
There’s a whole lot of difference between Telling someone and Engaging them; but folk will generally accept the the former if the latter happened first. (Of course there are also exceptional issues around every individual’s responsibility for their own actions, regardless of if and when they receive encouragement – voting, for instance, ‘should’ be a civic duty, not an action predicated on being ‘asked’ to vote.)
A rule of thumb for Contemporary Chairs could be: Lead from the front, but Listen at the back. Communicate before you Command.
I don’t think people have abandoned the idea of organisational leadership. Sometimes, especially when the stakes are high, they positively demand it. But they also expect those who direct them to acknowledge, very actively, that the prerogative of Command has to be given, accorded by Collective Consent, and not imposed.