denken mit auf Augenhöhe

“Bei aller Strategie bleiben wir menschlich: Wir hören zu, denken mit und kommunizieren auf Augenhöhe.” In English: “Yes, it’s about strategy. But more importantly it’s about people. We are people. We listen. We think with. And we communicate at eye-level.”

Think with. At eye-level. That’s it. The German logic. In black and white. Clear as a bell.

The quote is from gambit. A Germany-based marketing and communications agency. Specialists. Serving companies who build buildings. gambit understands architects and interior designers.

I stumbled across gambit when noticing how superb the Simonswerk website is. Created by gambit. Simonswerk. A German mid-sized company located near Hanover, with a strong presence in France, Italy, and most importantly in the United States.

And why the term gambit as the name of their agency? They provide the definition on their website: “gambit [gæmbit], n. (Schach) einleitender Schachzug, (in conversation) einleitende Bemerkung.”

From MerriamWebster: “A chess opening in which a player risks one or more pawns or a minor piece to gain an advantage in position; a remark intended to start a conversation or make a telling point.”

selbständig – independent

“The team at Minderleinsmühle opened up their hearts to me. From the first minute onward I felt very comfortable. In my area I work independently. My colleagues, however, are always there for me should I need help. Every day I learn something new.” Anna, Intern in Quality Control, 2019

Minderleinsmühle near Nuremberg, Germany. From their website:

“Our mueslis & cereals, pastries, sweets, chocolates and snacks stand for high-end quality, sustainability and best taste. Under leading of the Hubmann Family, the Minderleinsmühle was arisen from a craft mill with connected agriculture to an established manufacturer in the sector of organic food. As a grown enterprise with a vision, we unify craftsmanship and experience with technology and innovation.”

German Leadership Style … wrong !

Here we go, another misreading of German leadership logic. See correction in ( … ):

“In Germany there is a clear chain of command in each department, and information and instructions are passed down from the top. (no, it goes in both directions) This does not mean, however, that German management is exclusively autocratic (not only not exclusively, not autocratic at all): while the vertical structure in each department is clear, considerable value is placed on consensus.

Equally, the German striving for perfection in systems and procedures carries with it the implication that the manager who vigorously applies and monitors these is showing faith in a framework that has proved successful for all.

Accordingly, German managers motivate staff by showing solidarity with them in following procedures. They work long hours (wrog), obey the rules (a cliché, often Germans will go against or ignore a process or procedure) and, though expecting immediate obedience (a terrible cliché, as if Germans were dogs), insist on fair play. For their part, German employees welcome close instruction (actually it’s the opposite, they want generally-formulated tasks, and not specifically/detailed-formulate orders): they know where they stand and what they are expected to do.”

Helpful to understand how Germans lead and want to be led, see the comparison of soccer and American football:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about John Wooden

The greatest scorer in the history of NBA basketball in the United States. Kareem, formerly Lew Alcindor. An intelligent, very thoughtful person. On and off the basketball court.

He, like so many other players at UCLA – University of California Los Angeles – who played under coach John Wooden, was greatly influenced by Wooden.

In this talk Abdul-Jabbar speaks about the great strengths of John Wooden. Not only in how he formed great basketball players and teams. But more importantly how he formed young men. And they were as players at UCLA young men between the ages of 18 and 22.

Why is this post listed under Germany instead of the USA? Because Wooden’s approach to coaching is more indicative of the German leadership logic than of the American.

Wooden did not coach his players during the game. He gave only some very general instructions. Instead, he allowed them to apply what he had taught them during practice.

John Wooden always referred to himself as a basketball teacher. By the way, the official professional name for a soccer coach in the German Bundesliga is Fussball-Lehrer, literally soccer teacher.

John Wooden – Basketball Teacher

In this very brief video, Bill Walton, describes the coaching philosophy of John Wooden. In the sense of how Wooden coached during the game.

John Wooden coached men’s basketball team at UCLA – The University of California at Los Angeles. He was most likely the most successful of all coaches at the university level.

Wooden did not coach his players during the game. He gave some general instructions. Instead, he allowed to apply what he had taught them during practice.

John Wooden always referred to himself as a basketball teacher. By the way, the official professional name for a soccer coach in the German Bundesliga is Fussball-Lehrer, literally soccer teacher.

Bill Walton was one of John Wooden’s, and basketball’s, greatest players. His finest game was the 1973 collegiate championship in which he scored 44 points, make 21 of 22 field goals.

Command or Auftrag

A command, an order, an Auftrag are all forms in which military commanders communicate their intent. They are different in character, however. Commands and orders are strict, well defined, to be executed as stated. An Auftrag is the least strict in the sense of prescriptive, of defining the how as well as the what.

A command or order allows for little freedom in defining the how. A command defines the what and the how in detail. An Auftrag describes only the goal, thus allowing freedom to choose the best path to it. An Auftrag communicates intent, clearly and within the broader strategic context.

Depending on the situation, the line between an order and an Auftrag is in flux. The core of an Auftrag is the what. It can, though, include parameters such as the when and the where. The more detailed an Auftrag is about the how, the more it takes on the character of a command or order.

Parliamentary Democracy

In a parliamentary democracy the government is created out of and by the parliament. It is dependent on the support of the parliamentary party factions. The government, created by a majority coalition in the parliament, can also be deposed via a vote of Mißtrauen, mistrust. On the one side this gives the parliament a high degree of control over the government. On the other, however, the government can only govern by passing laws, which in turn requires strict discipline among the coalition parties in the parliament.

The presidential system is a different approach to democratic government. It‘s government – or administration, the executive branch of government – is elected directly by the people, and is therefore independent of the legislative branch, the Congress (Senate, House).

The United States is the most prominent example of the presidential system. There are also democratic forms of government which have aspects of both the parliamentary and presidential systems, such as France.

Germany is a classic parliamentary democracy. With one exception, federal elections have never produced a party with an absolute majority. Governments are always based on a coalition of two parties, who elect a chancellor to form a government. The chancellor then, in close negotiation with the coalition partners, chooses members for the cabinet. Traditionally these are the most powerful leaders of the coalition parties in the largest German states. They are power brokers in their own right and are considered to be capable of replacing the chancellor at any time.

Since all laws must be passed by a majority of the parliament, the government and its majority coalition in the parliament must work closely together. Any failure to pass a law is a clear signal of a possible break in the coalition.

Should the government, however, misuse its power over and against its colleagues in the parliament, the parliament can at any time dissolve the government via a vote of mistrust, which in turn leads to new elections. The government, should it not have the necessary support of parliament, has the same power to dissolve the parliament and force new elections.

In this sense, the chancellor‘s power is based on close cooperation not only with those cabinet members with their own independent political power base, but also with the influential factions in the parliament. The German chancellor is in the cabinet a primus inter pares, a first among equals.

German Kleinstaaterei

Klein, small. Staaterei, many states. From roughly 1650 until 1850 Germany consisted of some 350 independent states, most very small, with only a few kingdoms such as Prussia, Bavaria, and Saxony. The Kaiser had little direct power over this patchwork of states. His influence was reduced to that of a moderator.

While England and France were well advanced in becoming unified centralized states, Germany remained a country of loosely affiliated independent territories. And although many of these territories developed their own modern governmental bodies, there was little progress made to coordinate or integrate them at the national level.

One of the causes of the German Kleinstaaterei was the German tradition of inheritance which divided up possessions among all male heirs, and not the just the oldest. This led to more and smaller states. Complicating matters was the tradition of dividing up the inheritance equally. This led to the creation of non-contiguous states with en- and exclaves.

Although two large states were formed – Prussia led by the Hohenzollern dynasty and Austria-Hungary led by the Hapsburg dynasty – both had non-contiguous territories which made it difficult for Germany to consolidate as a nation-state similar to England and France.

The German Bund – created after the Napoleonic Wars – reduced the Kleinstaaterei to just under 40 independent states. But it wasn‘t until 1871 when Germany finally became a nation-state in the modern sense after Prussia defeated France and declared itself a Reich. In the years before the Franco-Prussian War, Prussia had consolidated most of the German states via war.

Soccer Teacher

In order to coach at the highest level of German professional soccer one needs a license, which is obtained after completing rigorous theoretical and practical training. Once obtained, the professional soccer coach is granted the official title of Fussballlehrer, literally soccer teacher.

The term soccer teacher describes well the job of a coach. Like a school teacher who has given a test, the soccer coach has few levers during the match to influence its outcome. He must hope that his or her players apply all that they learned and practiced during the match.

The coach and his staff work with their players on technique, practice specific strategies and set plays, try out different formations. But once the match begins the coach can make only three player substitutions, can to a limited degree yell certain instructions to the players, has only a few minutes at halftime to provide instruction. In the end, therefore, it is the players who have to know how to react to the opposing team.

The coach is practically a bystander. In fact, the rules of soccer prevent too much communication between coach and players. The coach is like a school teacher, who can only hope that his students have paid attention in the classroom, have done their homework conscientiously, will apply during the examination what was taught to them.

Article 65, German Basic Law

Germany‘s Grundgesetz or Basic Law is the equivalent of a constitution. Artikel 65 of the Grundgesetz defines the working relationship between the Chancellor and the cabinet:

„The Federal Chancellor defines and is responsible for the overall political goals of the government. Within the framework of these goals each cabinet member is responsible for leading their department independently.”

It continues:

“Differences of opinion among cabinet members are clarified by the Chancellor and the other cabinet members. The Chancellor leads the government based on a political platform formulated by the Chancellor and the cabinet, and which has been approved of by the Federal President.“