What Does “Command Performance” Leadership Really Mean?

I came up with Command Performance quite a few years ago as the title for my series of at least two books to be written about the study of military leadership and the foundations of strategy and tactics.  As discussed in my inaugural post, the book is a comprehensive text covering the principled values, virtues and wisdom that guide military and business professionals to victory.

Book one in the series is “Military Leadership – Concepts of Command (The Comprehensive Study of the Leadership Competencies of the United States Military),” which will be on leadership and management.  And, book two, “The Foundations of Warfighting Strategy – Integrating Warfighting Concepts into Force Capabilities, which will be on strategy and tactics.  Although they seem to have a predominantly military theme, the intent is to tie together the synergies shared between the military and corporate environments.

The term Command Performance has many universal meanings and interpretations related to leadership, and the execution of a task or action.  As you will see, these two words capture the entire leadership and strategy thesis of this blog, and my forthcoming books.  I will admit to you that I came up with the title before I ever realized the many significant meanings I am about to discuss.  In this discussion, in most instances, you must interchange the word command for the word lead, when it seems appropriate; command = lead.  You’ll know when this applies, in the proper context, within this discussion.

The common misconception is that command performance refers to the repeating of a great performance; a show that was so good that we need to see it again.  Although this isn’t the most accurate definition, I think it fits nicely into this discussion.  If a team or individual’s performance was a ‘good show’ and successful, we want to see it happen over and over again.  Think of an occasion where you saw a movie, concert, or play, where you enjoyed it so much that you absolutely planned on coming back again; once, twice, always.  The results of our work is no different.  Our leaders, supervisors, bosses want to see us succeed, and they want to succeed as well.  Performing poorly is not an option; especially in front of our audience, which includes our country, our customers, our peers, our company, etc.  whoever we serve, they expect great performances.  Our customers have paid for great performances; our companies pay us to provide great performances.  Figuratively, we are on stage when we do our jobs.  It is absolutely imperative that we do our jobs well, everyday and every time; to keep our customers coming back to us, or to keep our jobs.  When we have exceeded expectations, we deserve a command performance; and one should be anticipated.

But, the actual definition of command performance is ‘a theatrical or musical performance (a play, opera, ballet, etc.) presented at the direction or request of a reigning monarch or head of state (a king, queen, president, etc.).’  Otherwise known as The Royal Command Performance, since the earliest days of the monarchy, both in England and elsewhere, Kings and Queens have maintained minstrels and court jesters, and employed travelling troubadours to provide them with entertainment, and in its broadest sense any of these performances could be termed to be a ‘royal command performance’.[i]  From this context comes the play on words that comprises the many meanings of command performance.

A mistaken belief by many people is that military leaders, or military leadership in general, is an ‘in your face’ style of getting things done.  The vision most people have of the military is of a drill instructor barking out orders to recruits in boot camp; spouting profanity and displaying physical intimidation.  Those of us who served in the military certainly know that this is not true.  But, what is true is that, in the military, when we are given an order or directive to accomplish a task, it could mean the difference between life and death…winning or losing…success or failure.  When our boss demands performance, he/she does so with a determined conviction and authority that is unmistakable.  We know what is expected of us, and we deliver results.

To be commanding does not mean that you should be disrespectfully demanding.  When a boss, commissioned officer, CEO, commanding officer, etc., through his/her achievements and merit, have earned a certain level of respect and authority, and have gained the appropriate jurisdiction to command, he/she will demand performance; they will expect it.  When a leader insists that a job or task be completed, they mandate that there be the appropriate action required to accomplish the mission.  By their tone and determination, they direct with authority and control.  They give orders, exercising a dominating, authoritative influence over the individual, team or organization.  In addition to their authority, they possess knowledge, ability, skill, expertise and mastery.  There is a certain power and influence at the leader’s disposal, and they exercise and maintain the fitness to command.  In the act of commanding, the leader governs, instructs, directs, controls, oversees, inspires, and manages the process.  They take charge…they lead…they demand performance.

Another perspective of the term command performance is that the responsible leader will take ownership and accountability for performance.  Whatever the results of an organization, the leader owns the outcomes, and they are ultimately the individual who is accountable.  A good leader will never say things like, “it’s not my job…I forgot…it couldn’t be helped…”  There are no excuses; only results.  True leadership begins and ends with personal responsibility.  Success, or the failure, of any team or organization is reflected in the leader’s ability to take ownership of the outcomes.

Some of our leaders seem to be bigger than life.  This can come from fame or rank, character or respect, or from the prominence of the organization they lead.  They ultimately have a commanding  stature or persona.  It may not only be people who make us feel this way.  A leading company may have a commanding presence in their industry or region.  Or, a football team, by their dominance in their physical effort or position, has been commanding when they have taken a significant lead in a game.  Their play on the gridiron has been overpowering, and has overwhelmed their opponent.  Another example is the United States Navy.  They have Command of the Seas.  A naval force has command of the seas when it is so strong that its rivals cannot attack it directly.  To be a commanding presence is to possess or exercise controlling authority.  From that position, a person or an organization will earn and deserve respect and admiration.

There are more practical and literal definitions of the word command that require discussion.  A command is a directive or an order issued by one in authority or control of an organization.  A command is a signal that initiates an operation defined by an instruction, and is an action or task performed in response.  When we are given a command or task, we are expected to carry it out without fail.  Our command performance is expected to be professional and complete.

In the military, a Command is an organization (team, department, platoon, company, unit, post, region, district, etc.).  It is a body of troops, a station, or a ship under a the leadership of a Commander.  It may be an organization with a specific function, such as the Strategic Air Command or the Military Sealift Command.  A command’s performance is vital to mission accomplishment, and could make the difference between winning or losing a battle or war; or making a profit, keeping a customer, becoming number one in an industry, etc.

When we talk about Command Performance, we are obviously talking about many things.  No matter if we are the leader, or the one being lead, we are always on stage, and we are always performing.  And, no matter what our work or role happens to be, we always have an audience that we are performing for; our company, our customers, our peers, our family, our country, etc.  The way in which we function (or perform) will either earn us a command performance, or will get us thrown out of the theater.  We need to command our performance to be successful.

Copyright © Dale R. Wilson


[i] A History of the Royal Command Performance, Don Gillan (Copyright), www.stagebeauty.net, accessed 7 December 2011

One Response to “What Does “Command Performance” Leadership Really Mean?”

  1. […] In the less than four months of its existence, Command Performance Leadership has experienced some early successes.  It has attracted a diverse audience of people who have been interested in exploring the synergies between military and corporate leadership, as well as fellow bloggers from all across the blogosphere.  I sincerely hope that I have provided a quality, worthwhile resource on the internet, and that this blog has delivered on the expectations of those who have taken the time to find out more about the blog, and to learn what “Command Performance” leadership really means. […]


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