Auftragstaktik: Empowering Site-Based Leaders. What is Auftragstaktik? What are its limitations and risks? How does it free leaders for greater success?
“After the battle the king can do what he likes with my head, but during the battle will he please allow me to use it?” — Friedrich von Seydlitz
The German word Auftragstaktik is coined from the phrase: Auftrag (assignment) taktik (tactics).
The idea is that everyone in an organization needs to know how much authority they have and how to use that authority.
NOTICE: In the event of a fire, the person closest to the fire extinguisher has the authority to use it.
Auftragstaktik and Practical Disobedience
Frequently studied as a form of military command, the concept has its roots in Prussian and German military training.
Frederick II, also known as “Frederick the Great,” was the King of Prussia between 1740 and 1786. Under his rule, Prussia expanded its territories and became recognized as a military power in Europe.
He was King of Prussia during the Seven Years’ War. This war pitted England, Prussia, and their allies against the allies of the French and Russian alliance.
The people of Prussia admired their “War King.” His people and his soldiers affectionately referred to Frederick the Great as “Old Fritz.”
In battle, “Old Fritz” was a micromanager.
His most precocious and creative general was Friedrich von Seydlitz. This general was unconventional and independent in his tactics. His independence on at least one occasion ran counter the “Old Fritz’s” command.
In the Battle of Zorndorf in 1758, the king ordered the general to attack the Russian front. Instead the general attacked the Russian flank.
“Old Fritz” ordered his general to return to the king’s camp and explain himself.
The general, still engaged in battle, ignored the order. “Old Fritz” again ordered the general to report to the king’s camp. A second time, the general ignored the order. In a third attempt, the king sent an order to the general that he would either report to the king immediately or the king would lop off the general’s head.
The general replied, “After the battle the king can do what he likes with my head, but during the battle will he please allow me to use it?”
Seydlitz tactics worked to win the battle against the Russian army. He went on to become one of Prussia’s greatest generals. King Frederick became one of his friends. Operating under the thumb of a micromanager, he succeeded through the success he achieved with this mission tactics.