Leadership and management are covered so often in the popular business press – frequently positioned as opposing forces – that you would assume no other element is involved in running organizations. However, one essential concept receives little attention, especially in the context of the CEO role: Command. Now in my view both leadership (influencing people to take action) and management (organizing the resources necessary to take action) are very important for managers to understand. Managers who exhibit really good leadership and management skills will likely have tremendous success in their careers. But if they don’t understand and master the concept of command, they may not last in a CEO role.
The military uses the word command to describe the position of having responsibility for a given unit or asset. While civilians may equate command with the ability to give orders, most experienced officers understand that the first word related to command is responsibility. The person in command has the ultimate responsibility for the all the people and resources of the unit. In a CEO role, you have total responsibility for the performance of the organization, though limited control.
This dichotomy inherent in the CEO role is one reason that it is often hard to judge how someone will respond when they are put into a command position. I have seen people who exhibited great leadership and management skills in other positions struggle with the responsibility of command. Sometimes the weight of the position makes it hard for them to make a decision, or they are unable to handle the stress of having final accountability for the organization. There are many people who are great as part of a staff but just don’t have the right makeup to be successful as the top executive.
When a previously highly successful executive fails in their first chance at the CEO role, it is often because the charge of command was something they just couldn’t handle. Being the CEO of any company is a great responsibility. The CEOs who can embrace the responsibility without letting it over power them are the ones who can achieve great success.