Führen mit Auftrag – Requirements

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 the following nine requirements.

Training: Führen mit Auftrag requires well-trained troops who ideally have been fighting together over a longer period of time. Soldiers should be viewed as masters of their craft. This includes not only expertise in using their weapons, but moreso their overall behaviour when in battle.

Self-confidence and cohesion: The entire group must possess a high degree of self-confidence. Every member, from enlisted soldier to the highest ranking officer, must view themselves as an expert at what they do. The officers should be proud to lead such troops. They should identify themselves with their troops and not have an eye on their next promotion.

Acceptance: Officers should accept soldiers who take different approaches as long as the overall goal is reached. Officers should not get too involved on the tactical level, thus allowing soldiers to develop their skills. Too early, too much involvement on the tactical level frustrates self-leading soldiers.

Trust: Officers and soldiers need to trust each other. Officers cover for their soldiers when things go wrong. Mistakes are either not punished or at least not immediately. Common thinking and acting is critical. It is based on common training.

Information: Detailed information is important, especially explaining the strategic thinking behind individual missions. Soldiers need to understand the big picture, the broader context in which they are operating. Officers take seriously input provided by the tactical level, thereby encouraging soldiers to think and act independently.

Few orders: Commanding officers state only the mission, provide necessary resources and makes sure that participating organizations coordinate their activities. Everything else is left to the tactical level, which makes their own decisions about how to complete the mission. Leadership is decentralized.

Motivation: Commanders at the front know best the strengths and weaknesses of their troops, and can best judge the situation. Allowing for independent decision making and action strengthens motivation and morale among the troops. They identify more closely with the overall mission, view themselves as subjects and not objects to be commanded here and there.

Deviation from mission: If the situation on the ground has changed, it is expected of officers and their troops to make the necessary adjustments immediately, even without having informed their next level officer.

Situation analysis: Officers and soldiers at all levels are expected to constantly reassess the situation. What is our overall mission? What are we expected to achieve? Has the situation changed in any way which requires of us to modify our approach? If so, in what way and when?