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Auftragstaktik [Commander's Intent]

by Rick Baker
On Nov 30, 2011

A little over 200 years ago Napoleon Bonaparte's army crushed the Prussian army in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt.

In summary, Napoleon's French army was nimble and flexible in comparison to the more-bureaucratic forces of his enemies. The Prussians learned 'the hard way' about Napoleon's organizational genius and his inspired, almost invincible, followers. 

The 1806 defeat stung so badly it caused the Prussians to review their military methods.

The resulting Prussian military thought is now known as 'Auftragstaktik'.

Auftragstaktik is one of many legacies/tributes to Napoleon.

In English, we call it 'Commander's Intent'.

Commander's Intent has been taught in military schools throughout the world for two centuries. And, more recently, it has found its way into business literature. 

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia, which will clarify how Commander's Intent works in the military:

"Auftragstaktik can be seen as a doctrine within which formal rules can be selectively suspended in order to overcome "friction". Carl von Clausewitz stated that "Everything in war is simple but the simplest thing is difficult". Problems will occur with misplaced communications, troops going to the wrong location, delays caused by weather, etc., and it is the duty of the commander to do his best to overcome them. Auftragstaktik encourages commanders to exhibit initiative, flexibility and improvisation while in command. In what may be seen as surprising to some, Auftragstaktik empowers commanders to disobey orders and revise their effect as long as the intent of the commander is maintained." 

Here is a more-succinct definition, provided by Sanjay Mishra:

"Commander's Intent is "the commander's stated vision which defines the purpose of an operation, the end state with respect to the relationship among the force, the enemy and the terrain; it must enable subordinates to quickly grasp the successful end state and their part in achieving it"."

Now, with a few tweaks [like replacing the words 'commander' & 'enemy' with the words 'boss' & 'clients'] all of that applies perfectly to business...

In 'Made to Stick' the Heath brothers, Chip and Dan, made the following point about Commander's Intent:

"Commander's Intent: it's about elegance and clarifying priorities...the unmistakable core of the message."

Commander's Intent is an essential part of business communication.

This applies everywhere in business, but I am particularly aiming my thoughts at 3 business communications:

  1. Leadership communications
  2. Marketing communications, &
  3. Sales communications 
You will gain advantage if your communications in these 3 business areas contain Commander's Intent.
 
As the Prussians did 200 years ago, we can learn from the example set by Napoleon:
  • we can strive to excel at vividly envisioning the desired end state [Vivid Vision],
  • we can strive to think through, in advance, hurdles our people may encounter,
  • we can strive to excel at organizing the roles and actions of our people,
  • we can strive to inspire our people to use their ingenuity, and
  • we can strive to deliver concise & clear core-messages about the desired end state [Commander's Intent].

 

Footnote:

I want to impress many things captured [and perhaps hidden] in the above Thought Post, but I will limit it to 2:

  1. That Carl von Clausewitz quote..."Everything in war is simple but the simplest thing is difficult." I suppose we are saying the same thing when we claim 'Murphy's Law'. At Spirited Leaders, we promote Seeking Simple. That's a Spirited Leaders' concept. Find the simple things that go wrong before they go wrong...find the simple things that work before wasting time 'going wrong'.
  2. As Chip Heath and Dan Heath taught in 'Made to Stick', if you want people to understand and remember your messages make them sticky - Sticky SUCCESs StoriesSimple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Story. Commander's Intent is embedded in Simple.

Comments (2) -

rick baker
1/22/2013 9:06:07 PM #

"Strategy is not as detailed as a plan. It is more a set of guidelines. Later these will need to be put into a plan. The point is that the guidelines remain but the plans may vary with the situation. The way you implement a strategy may vary while the strategy remains constant."

Edward de Bono
'Teach Yourself To Think', 1995

rick baker
4/12/2014 12:57:41 PM #

"Two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead."

Carl von Clausewitz

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