An interesting concept, especially from the perspective of decentralized command and control. Not just relevant for militaries, but for any organization requiring leadership.
Interestingly, the literally hundreds of American observers who were regularly sent to the old continent during the course of the 19th century to study the constantly warring European armies completely missed out on the decade long discussion about the revolutionary command philosophy of Auftgrastaktik. Instead they focused on saddle straps, belt buckles and drill manuals. This is one reason why the most democratic command concept never found a home in the greatest democracy. The U.S. officers simply missed the origins because of their own narrow-minded military education.
In the past, the “Competency theory” of learning dominated course curriculums, and there remain signs of it today in leader development. Competency theory is a product of the Industrial Age outlook that once, by necessity, governed the way military forces prepared for war. During the time when we relied on a massed citizen army of draftees, this “assembly line” mentality made sense, but the disadvantage was that this emphasized output more than the individual quality of the product.
Competency-based Education evolved from the Principles of Scientific Management developed by management and efficiency theorist Frederick Taylor in the 1890s. By the end of World War II, most Public Schools had adapted it as a foundation for its curriculum. Educators used Taylor’s ideas to create proficiency standards in the classroom selected by a centralized authority. Industrial-age organizations seek routine and habit achieved through standardized procedures. Complex tasks are therefore broken into simple steps to ensure that employees are both interchangeable and easily replaced. Bureaucratic hierarchies tend to value quantifiable assessment of specific aspects of complex managerial tasks. A modern manifestation of competency based education is the tendency today for teacher to “teach the test.” to ensure better scores on standardized tests. This is teaching “what to think” instead of “how to think”.
Schools must constantly put students in difficult, unexpected situations, and then require them to decide and act under time pressure. Schooling must take students out of their “comfort zones.” Stress—mental and moral as well as physical—must be constant. War games, tactical decision games, map exercises and free play field exercises must constitute the bulk of the curriculum. Drill and ceremonies and adhering to “task, condition and standards” (TCS)—task proficiency—in the name of process are not important.
When subordinates lose contact with their higher commander, the subordinate must be counted on to take appropriate action, rather than to stop and wait for contact to be re-established. This aggressive attitude allows units to take advantage of local successes. In short, “...nothing laid down from above in advance is sacrosanct. A subordinate commander...is justified...in modifying or even changing the task assigned him” as long as his action supports the higher commander’s intent.
Key to the German success with Auftragstaktik was the strenuous selection and development of its leaders. There were three personal qualities which the Germans clearly valued in their officers. These were knowledge, independence and the joy of taking responsibility.