Führen mit Auftrag – very loosely translated as leading by mission – is the foundational leadership principle in the German armed forces, and has been since the early 1800s. It has six key elements:
1. Decision making: Those with the most expertise should be involved. The team analyzes the Auftrag (mission), the parameters of the situation, and the possible options to complete the mission. This is the basis for making the optimal decision and for maintaining motivation and morale within the team.
2. The Auftrag describes the goal: The core task of military leadership is to issue well-defined Aufträge, missions. The focus is on defining the end state, not the specific action taken to reach it. Define the goal clearly, allow as much tactical freedom as possible. The path to the goal is best defined by those at the front. A clear Auftrag allows the tactical level to make necessary adjustments due to situational changes independent of their leadership.
3. Context and boundary conditions: The Auftrag includes a description of the mission‘s boundary conditions. The tactical level needs to understand how its mission fits into the broader strategic picture. They should be informed and understand the strategic thinking two level above their own. This allows the tactical level to make independent decisions should next-level leadership not be reachable.
4. Resources: Critical to mission completion is providing the tactical level with all necessary resources. Anything less is not only unfair, it threatens team morale and the mission itself. Capable commanders do their best to prevent a gap between mission and resources.
5. Coordination of forces: If the Auftrag requires action by several units, disciplines, organizations, then it is critical to clarify lines of authority and of communication. Overlaps should be avoided, areas of integrated approaches well defined.
6. Communications and reporting: Information flow needs to be set both on the tactical level and between the tactical and strategic levels. Progress reports are critical not only within military units, but also between the military and their civilian commanders.