A couple of weeks ago we had a discussion in my company, if some aspects of “new leadership” here, had a military nature. I should probably start with admitting that I am German and that I also have a brief personal military history. In short: You can call me captain.

When I currently think about military leadership three concepts are very important to me:

  • Führen mit Auftrag –> Mission Command
  • Führen durch Vorbild –>  Leading by example
  • Innere Führung –> Leadership Development and Civic Education


Mission Command

“In mission-type tactics, the military commander gives subordinate leaders a clearly defined goal (the mission), the forces needed to accomplish that goal and a time frame within which the goal must be reached. The subordinate leaders then implement the order independently. The subordinate leader is given, to a large extent, the planning initiative and a freedom in execution which allows a high degree of flexibility at the operational and tactical levels of command. Mission-type orders free the higher leadership from tactical details.” [1]

Therefore subordinate leaders need their own capabilities to evaluate a situation, make decisions, be self-reliant, independent and responsible for themselves and their soldiers. Therefore the most critical part of the commander is to explain the intent behind the mission.

Basically the concept in its modern understanding is of Prussian origin.

The German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder[2] is famous for his quote: “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy”.

So the highest Prussian military leaders realized in the very early 19th century, that once their troops faced the enemy – all their plans were outdated – and their leaders on the battlefield needed to develop new tactics in order to win the battle. The communication ways from the battlefield to the HQ planning board and back were just too long and ineffective. Their answer was “Mission Command”. Give the leaders the authority and the freedom to take decisions in order to support the mission. And this worked so successfully that it was officially introduced into Prussian army regulations from the 1860s on. The first famous battle it was applied in was Königgrätz [3] – ending in a memorable victory! Since then all German armies are using that concept.

Leading by example
Summed up, you can only ask of your men what you are willing and able to do yourself. Or put into a more familiar environment:

The famous German comedian Karl Valentin once said: “Kinder brauchen nicht erzogen zu werden, sie machen uns eh alles nach”. He meant that children do not need to be raised and educated – the just imitate and adapt their parents.

And this skill to inspect and adapt is something most of us keep in our lives. I worked as a consultant for a couple of years. Whenever I came into a new company, the first things I’ve done were inspecting the environment and adapting to them. How does everyone dress? How do they address each other? How formal are they with each other? Are they playing nice or playing hard? How is hierarchy working here?


And most importantly: Consequence. Nobody want’s to follow a leader (or a parent) that says one thing and does another. So my team – and my family, can always rely that the things I say will be things I do (unless I become significantly smarter in the meantime).


Leadership Development and Civic Education
In the early 1950s a group of men came together to build the foundation of a new German army. But the self-concept had to change to make sure that the concept of order and obedience is not misused again as in the Third Reich.

General Wolf Graf von Baudissin [4] wrote: “Leadership Development and Civic Education never had a choice. Our constitution, experiences and insights obligate us to set the image of a responsible human as the basis of theory and practice.” But as my translation might be imperfect – here’s the original: “Die Innere Führung hatte nie eine Wahl. Grundgesetz, Kriegserfahrung, soziologische und pädagogische Erkenntnisse in allen Lebensbereichen und verpflichten uns, das freiheitliche Bild vom mündigen Menschen als Grundlage von Theorie und Praxis zu setzen.” [5]

Their goal was to find motivation of the soldiers by generating the insight of the necessity of their mission, duty, obedience, discipline, by taking over responsibility and being part of a team. In German: “Aus der Einsicht der Notwendigkeit seiner Aufgabe, Pflichterfüllung, Gehorsam und Disziplin sowie seiner Einbindung in die Truppe und der Übernahme von Verantwortung erfährt der Einzelne Motivation.”

Leadership is defined in the Bundeswehr as a process of influencing the behaviour of people in order to reach a specific goal.


Mission Command gives a speficic goal, maybe time and ressources. But the team is free in the execution and finding their way to accomplish that mission.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Or even #lean or #agile to you?


Literature / Further Reading
[1] Mission Command / Mission-type tactics @ Wikipedia
[1] Auftragstaktik / Führen mit Auftrag @ Wikipedia

[2] Helmuth von Moltke @ Wikipedia in English
[2] Helmuth von Moltke @ Wikipedia in German
[3] Battle of Königgrätz @ Wikipedia in English
[4] Wolf Graf von Baudissin @ Wikipedia in English
[4] Wolf Graf von Baudissin @ Wikipedia in German

[5] ZDv 10/1 @ KdoSKB in English & German
[6] Zusammenfassung Innere Führung @ Bundeswehr