Archive for category Leadership

Leadership: The Proud Prussian Tradition of ‘Disobedience’

The German and Prussian officer corps are the officer corps with the greatest culture of disobedience–with maybe the exception of the French. The stories and events that kept alive the virtue requiring an officer–even in war–to disobey an order “when justified by honor and circumstances” were corporate cultural knowledge within the Prussian and German officer corps and it is therefore important to recount them here. -Jörg Muth, from the book Command Culture.

This is cool. Back in 2012 I wrote a Building Snowmobiles post called General Hermann Balck, The German That Inspired Boyd. In that post I explored the origins of Boyd’s thinking when it came to battlefield innovation and leadership. Or basically, I wanted to find out who inspired him in the history of warfare or gave him the idea like ‘building snowmobiles’. And what I found out had it’s origins at Chet Richard’s paper called John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the Meaning of Life. Here is the quote I zeroed in on, and it has been fun to expand upon what made Balck interesting to Boyd.

Boyd’s appreciation for novelty grew as he mulled over the ingredients for success in conflicts. Boyd’s close associate, Pierre Sprey, credits Boyd’s conversations with General Balck (1979a & 1979b) as planting the seeds that led to Boyd’s fascination with innovation, novelty, and the importance of rapid, intuitive decision-making (Personal communication, September 23, 2012). Thus the elements of maneuver conflict that appear in the September 1981 edition of Patterns, for example, do not include the concept of novelty, but by 1986 it was there (p. 115). Perhaps it was not until he began to compose Conceptual Spiral, though, that Boyd realized how the term “novelty” encapsulated so much of his strategy.

So in my post, I wanted to find that translated taped interview between Balck and Boyd’s research team and talk about anything of interest to the readership here. (which by the way, if anyone has that tape, it would be priceless to get it up on youtube or in a podcast)

At the time, I was really into the concept of dissent within teams or units. To speak up and not have the fear of being put down by your leadership. This is necessary for healthy organizations and leadership absolutely needs feedback in order to gain a finger tip feel for their organization. You also need honesty so that you are able to make decisions based on reality, and not based on data derived from a group think type scenario. Too many leaders and managers in today’s private industry are so adverse to getting honest feedback, or lashing out at those within their organizations that have the courage to come forward and question the status quo or some policy that makes no sense. This criticism is often interpreted as an affront to leaders whose ego is more important than building a better organization or coming up with better strategies.

It is sad to see companies fail or falter because of these types of poor leaders, and their actions do immense damage. Within the PMSC industry, you see it all the time with Program Managers that lack management skill and leadership skills, yet are hired for the position because they knew someone or the company blindly hired them without proper vetting.

These PM’s would benefit greatly by just listening to their human resource and acting on that information, instead of trying to do everything on their own and not seeking input. To actually listen to those that have the courage to step forth and ask the all important ‘why’ question when confronted with idiotic policies. Policies that are often made without the input of others or the consideration of it’s second and third effects on operations or the morale of the contractors on that program.

So back to the main point. I ended that post about Balck with a question that has been bugging me since I wrote the thing in 2012. Here it is.

The other quote that perked me up is Balck’s mention of the Prussian military tradition of ‘expressing yourself bluntly’ to your superiors. lol I love it, and in the quote below, Model was his boss and Balck was telling him how much he sucked at commanding.
“Model listened to everything I said. We both expressed our opinions, shook hands and returned home. He never came to see me again. But every time I got a new assignment, he was one of the first to congratulate me.
That was one of the great Prussian military traditions: you expressed yourself bluntly but you were expected to never resent such blunt criticism.”
Boy, imagine if we had such a tradition in the US military? Or even in private industry? It also shows how smart the Prussians were about feedback and questioning authority. To actually have a tradition that forces folks to sit there and take criticism like a man…. I might have to explore this Prussian military tradition at a later point. Pretty cool and check this thing out. 

I thought at the time that this was crazy but awesome! For a military to have a proud tradition of ‘expressing yourself bluntly’ to your superiors is a pretty powerful concept? And most of all, where did this tradition come from and why is it important?

After making that post, it definitely got some traction and it sparked all types of conversations, and especially on Facebook. At FB, I even reached out to any of my German national readers that read the blog, and asked if they had heard of such a thing? Or even if there was a German phrase they were familiar with? I got nothing, and the question just lingered and the post just went into the archives un-answered.

Then late last year while reading an excellent book by Jörg Muth called Command Culture, I finally found the answer. For a quick reminder, Jorg came to my attention when I stumbled upon a post over at the blog called Best Defense, that described the command culture and the concept of Auftragstaktik (Mission Command) of the German Wehrmacht during WW 2, and compared that culture and command philosophy to the US military culture and command philosophy during WW 2.

After reading about the concepts, and how influential they really were to militaries around the world (to include the US), I was intrigued and had to find out more. I was amazed at how influential and sound the concepts were and I haven’t stopped researching the stuff since. Here is a segment about what Jörg’s book is about. (I also suggest the work by William LindDon Vandergriff, Eitan Shamir, Bruce Gudmundsson, Chet Richards, and Martin Van Crevald and their focus on Mission Command or Auftragstaktik and German military thinking during WW 1 and WW 2)

In Command Culture, Jörg Muth examines the different paths the United States Army and the German Armed Forces traveled to select, educate, and promote their officers in the crucial time before World War II. Muth demonstrates that the military education system in Germany represented an organized effort where each school and examination provided the stepping stone for the next. But in the United States, there existed no communication about teaching contents or didactical matters among the various schools and academies, and they existed in a self chosen insular environment. American officers who finally made their way through an erratic selection process and past West Point to the important Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, found themselves usually deeply disappointed, because they were faced again with a rather below average faculty who forced them after every exercise to accept the approved “school solution.”
Command Culture explores the paradox that in Germany officers came from a closed authoritarian society but received an extremely open minded military education, whereas their counterparts in the United States came from one of the most democratic societies but received an outdated military education that harnessed their minds and limited their initiative. On the other hand, German officer candidates learned that in war everything is possible and a war of extermination acceptable. For American officers, raised in a democracy, certain boundaries could never be crossed.
This work for the first time clearly explains the lack of audacity of many high ranking American officers during World War II, as well as the reason why so many German officers became perpetrators or accomplices of war crimes and atrocities or remained bystanders without speaking up. Those American officers who became outstanding leaders in World War II did so not so much because of their military education, but despite it.
The book connects successfully the pre-World
War II officer education of the U. S. Army and its traditions and culture with the conduct of the War against Terror today.

So what golden nugget of information did I find that relates to the topic of this post? Here is a quote from the book.

It was not by accident that the phrase fuhren unter der Hand (leadership behind the superior’s back) originated from the German and not any other army. All those examples were collective cultural knowledge within the Prussian officer corps, recounted and retold countless times in an abundance of variations during official lectures, in the officer’s mess, or in correspondence between comrades. The independence that was expected from a German officer and that was part of the tradition of the German officer corps could always attain the character of disobedience, a fact that was also recognized and acknowledged. 

The examples Jörg mentioned were of famous military leaders in the Prussian army, and later the German army. They include men like Ludwig Beck, who had the quote that ‘military obedience has a limit where knowledge, conscience, and a sense of responsibility forbid the execution of a command.’ Ludwig actually put action to words in regards to Hitler and was involved in a plot to assassinate him.

Other names mentioned include Generalleutnant Johann David Ludwig Graf Yorck von Wartenburg who signed a treaty with France in 1812 without the permission of the king of Prussia. The king originally wanted the guy executed for taking the initiative and not consulting the king about his actions, but then when that treaty actually resulted in great benefit to Prussia, then all was forgiven.

Another guy mentioned was Oberst Johann Friedrich Adolf von der Marwitz, who refused a direct order by his king to loot a castle of one of their enemies. That this kind of activity was not appropriate for his prestigious calvary regiments, and that lesser free lancer units raised during war time were usually given these tasks. Of course this pissed off the king, and Marwitz got a lot of flack for it. On his tombstone, it says ‘ He saw Frederick’s heroic times and fought with him in all his wars. He chose disgrace when obedience brought no honor.”

Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz is another famous guy in Prussian history that told his king to shove off during a battle. The king wanted him to attack with his calvary at a specific time during the Battle of Zorndorf, and Seydlitz replied that it wasn’t time yet. The king got pissed off, and demanded that he attack, and Seydlitz refused because he already had a plan. He replied famously ‘Tell the King that after the battle my head is at his disposal, but meanwhile I will make use of it’. lol

Back in those days, if you refused the king’s wishes, they would have you executed, so you can imagine the kind of courage it takes to say ‘nope’ or be disobedient.  And of course when Seydlitz attacked at the time of his choosing, he won the battle. Which shows how sure he was of himself and what needed to happen.

The final mention of disobedience was Friedrich the Second, who was the Prince of Hessen-Homburg. He decided he was going to start a battle against some Swedish mercenaries (Battle of Fehrbellin) at a time and choosing of his own, before waiting on The Great Elector to show up. The time period was 1675 during the Thirty Years War, and wars at that time required that rulers be present on the field of battle before they start. Friedrich decided to buck the system and kick off a surprise attack without the ruler being there. (on a side note, the army raised for this battle, became the core of the Prussian Army)

Now why is all of this disobedience relevant to Prussian history? Because back in 1812, a lack of initiative and a highly centralized command led to a bloody and extremely embarrassing defeat of the Prussians at the Battle of Jena. This battle is said to be the turning point in Prussian military thought on how to fight and win wars, and started them on the path to developing Auftragstaktik. A command culture and philosophy that emphasizes individual initiative, and forming creative solutions to problems and operating off of commanders intent as opposed to hanging on their every word.

So there you have it. It was fun to finally close the loop on this question, and a big thanks to Jörg Muth for writing such a kick ass book. It is also a reminder to those leaders out there that are actually trying to build a better company or military unit, that feedback is essential to the health of your organization. The Prussians learned long ago the value of dissent or disobedience, and it was infused into their command culture through years of warfare and trial and error.

If in fact the US military or private companies are interested in implementing decentralized command principals like Mission Command, they will have to remember that your leaders will have to have some thick skin and put away their egos. They must study what works for war or business, and they must have an appreciation for those willing to speak up and criticize what is going on. After all, that individual might be responsible for taking the initiative and turning the corner of a battle, or finding a new market for your business, all because they dared to do something different or say something that needed to be said.

Or they make like Seydlitz and ‘fuhren unter der Hand’! –Matt


Frederick the Great compliments General von Seydlitz on his conduct during the Battle of Zorndorf. Picture by Carl Röhling

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Podcasts: Boyd Briefing On Organic Design For Command And Control

This is fantastic stuff! I had no idea this existed and if you are a fan of Boyd and mission command, you need to check this out. If you go to this link, or click on the graphic below, it will take you to the website that has this recording that is synced to Boyd’s slide. It also has audience participation in the audio and you get a really good feel on how Boyd would interact with the audience.

A big hat tip to Gahlord of Thoughtfaucet for putting this together. As for an actual download, perhaps someone out there can put it together? Until then, just listen and watch the slides at the Boyd and Beyond site, and enjoy some ‘Leadership and appreciation’!!! –Matt

Edit: 01/04/14 -Notice the theme in this briefing about the importance of having multiple nodes of feedback within your organization, in order to get the proper orientation to make good decisions. It is why Balck ate with his troops–to get feedback that was different than what he was getting in his staff meetings. You do not want a situation where you are getting information from just one source–because that one source could be biased. They could be sucking up to you. You want multiple sources of honest feedback to get a more complete picture. In other words, and this is the point of his lecture, you want to get an ‘appreciation’ for what you have and what is, so that you can apply some sound leadership to the situation. Appreciation and leadership….not command and control.


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Leadership: General Balck On Eating With Your Troops

When General Hermann Balck was commanding 48th Panzer Korps on the Eastern Front with General F.W. von Mellinthin as his I-A, Mellinthin one day reproached Balck for wasting time by going out to eat with the troop units so often. Balck replied, “You think so? OK, tomorrow you come with me.”
The next day, they arrived at a battalion a bit before lunchtime. They had a formal meeting, Balck asked some questions and got some answers. Then, they broke for lunch. During the informal conversation that usually accompanies meals, Balck asked the same questions and got completely different answers. On their way back to the headquarters, Balck turned to Mellinthin and said, “Now you see why I go out so often to eat with the troop units. It’s not for the cuisine.”

In one of my searches on General Hermann Balck, I came across an interesting deal about the value of informal conversation and eating with your troops. As a leader in the PMSC world, to achieve unit cohesion can be challenging. Most gigs are personnel deployment versus unit deployment, so you could be on a gig where you are constantly working with new folks.

So as a leader in such an environment, you have to constantly find ways of connecting with your guys other than just working with them in the day to day. Anything you can do to connect with folks and bring them together as a team, even when that team is constantly changing. The brass ring for any leader is to create unit cohesion so that operationally, you work as a team and not a bunch of individuals. Sitting with your shift, team, detail, company, etc. is one small way of building that unit cohesion.

This sounds like a no-brainer when it comes to leading, but you still have folks out there who want to separate themselves from their team/organization/company. Either for privacy issues, or on the negative side, because they could care less about the very people they lead. That eating with your men is a waste of time, like what was mentioned by Mellinthin up top. The simple act of breaking bread with your brothers in arms can show that you do care about them and actually want to connect with them other than through training or work.

It is also an excellent way to get feedback gold from your people. Or to create an environment where people can open up to what is really going on with the contract/mission or with what is happening with the team. Someone might mention a very useful bit of information about training or operational stuff, that really opens up a conversation within the group at the dinner table. ‘Pass the gravy, and tell me more about how to do this better….. As a leader,  you should have a front seat to this information sharing dinner party.

There was also a mention of Boyd in this article that was interesting. Boyd and Lind were both a part of the group that interviewed Balck and all sorts of cool lessons learned were obtained from these conversations. –Matt


General Hermann Balck in the center, at a table with soldiers.

By William S. Lind
March 15, 2007
A curious fact about the American military, and American private industry, in the early 21st century is their insistence on holding formal meetings. The practice is curious because these same institutions spend a great deal of time and effort studying “good management,” which should recognize what most participants in such meetings see, namely that they are a waste of time. Good decisions are far more often a product of informal conversations than of any formal meeting, briefing or process.
History offers a useful illustration. In 1814, the Congress of Vienna, which faced the task of putting Europe back together after the catastrophic French Revolution and almost a quarter-century of subsequent wars, did what aristocrats usually do. It danced, it dined, it stayed up late playing cards for high stakes, it carried on affairs, usually not affairs of state. Through all its aristocratic amusements, it conversed. In the process, it put together a peace that gave Europe almost a century of security, with few wars and those limited.
In contrast, the conference of Versailles in 1919 was all business. Its dreary, interminable meetings (read Harold Nicolson for a devastating description) reflected the bottomless, plodding earnestness of the bourgeois and the Roundhead. Its product, the Treaty of Versailles, was so flawed that it spawned another great European war in just twenty years. As Kaiser Wilhelm II said from exile in Holland, the war to end war yielded a peace to end peace.
The U.S. military has carried the formal meeting’s uselessness to a new height with its unique cultural totem, the Powerpoint brief. Almost all business in the American armed forces is now done through such briefings. An Exalted High Wingwang, usually a general or an admiral, formally leads the brief, playing the role of the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert. Grand Wazoos from various satrapies occupy the first rows of seats. Behind them sit rank upon rank of field-grade horse-holders, flower-strewers and bung-holers, desperately striving to keep their eyelids open through yet another iteration of what they have seen countless times before.
The briefing format was devised to use form to conceal a lack of substance. Powerpoint, by reducing everything to bullets, goes one better. It makes coherent thought impossible. Bulletizing effectively makes every point equal in importance, which prevents any train of logic from developing. Thoughts are presented like so many horse apples, spread randomly on the road. After several hundred Powerpoint slides, the brains of all in attendance are in any case reduced to mush. Those in the back rows quietly pray for a suicide bomber to provide some diversion and end their ordeal.

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Leadership: Narcissism And Toxic Leaders

This is an excellent run down of a particular type of ‘bad boss‘ that folks might run into out there. The article also talks about what to look for when finding potential leaders for an organization, in order to avoid these narcissistic toxic leaders. They boil it down to having emotional intelligence or the ability to focus on others (respecting others) as opposed to focusing purely on self (narcissism).

Under Jundism, you will find a couple of concepts that promote emotional intelligence. One is to ‘take care of your people’ and another would be ‘people support what they help to create’.  Both of these concepts require knowledge of your people. With that knowledge, you will have the brain power and experience of the group to tap into so you can build a better product or service.

Another more simplistic way to look at this, is to find and hire those individuals who are there ‘to do’ the job of a leader, and not there just ‘to be’ a leader or ‘To Be, Or To Do’ in the words of Col. John Boyd.

One final point that the article mentioned that rang true for both the military and any organization, and goes well with ‘the courage to do what is right’, is this quote.

“If the leader walks by and observes something wrong without making the correction, he has just established the new standard of behavior.”

If a company or military unit knows they have a toxic leader within their ranks, and they do nothing about it, they in essence are saying that it is acceptable. The troops are left wondering, does the organization as a whole really care about their welfare, if they knowingly allow these individuals to stay in these positions of power, or promote folks whom are toxic into these positions of power within the organization?

To that end, I would say that another quote from Boyd is in order–‘people, ideas, hardware–and in that order’. Companies and the military must make the effort to ensure that good leaders are within their ranks, representing the organizations well, managing the mission and contract well, and taking care of their people. That they are exhibiting the necessary emotional intelligence to properly use an organization’s most important resource–it’s people. –Matt


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Leadership: Adaptive Leader LLC–Leadership Training By Don Vandergriff

Don illustrates how to use Outcomes Based Training & Education (OBT&E) and Adaptive Decision Games (ADGs) to teach and develop adaptability – shaping leaders and teams who achieve out-sized results and help continually evolve their organizations to thrive in the face of change and adversity.
Don began his work on personnel management and leader development with the question “How would John Boyd develop the kinds of leaders he saw as most effective?”

Wow, this is cool. Don Vandergriff is another outstanding John Boyd enthusiast that is actually applying his ideas to leadership training/consulting. This would be a fantastic training provider to look to if your company is looking to square away your management systems. (Or maybe your company could care less about leadership?….)

So who are Don’s clients so far? Well if you look at his client page, you will see a whole list of private and public organizations, to include the Army, Marines, and Navy SEALs. Check it out and definitely like them on Facebook or their other social networking sites they list. They also run a blog with an RSS feed. –Matt

Website for Adaptive Leadership here.


Adaptive Leader

Adaptive Leader focuses on helping you develop the right kind of leadership and decision making skills within your organization.
We are a world leader in the application of cutting edge Outcome Based Training and Education (OBT&E) having worked with the British Council, Johns Hopkins University, Wells Fargo, United States Army, the U.S Navy Seals, the Baltimore Police Department and many other large innovative organizations.
Our unique OBT&E model can be applied to a wide variety of areas to encourage rapid learning and extremely fast team cohesion. The process enables participants to develop leadership skills, moral courage and decision-making skills in a safe but pressured environment. All our workshops are completely interactive with participants fully engaged throughout.
Our unique application of the “After Action Review” tool allows us to craft customized Adaptive Decision Games based on a client’s own market place experiences; meaning your leaders and future leaders can be trained with your business as the case study.

Author, Innovator and Leading Thinking on the Development of Adaptive Leaders
Don Vandergriff has been quoted as an expert on leader development, personnel management and fourth generation warfare in publications ranging from the Washington Post, Inside the Pentagon, Army Times and The Atlantic Monthly, and his ideas featured in Harvard Business Review.
Don illustrates how to use Outcomes Based Training & Education (OBT&E) and Adaptive Decision Games (ADGs) to teach and develop adaptability – shaping leaders and teams who achieve out-sized results and help continually evolve their organizations to thrive in the face of change and adversity.
Don began his work on personnel management and leader development with the question “How would John Boyd develop the kinds of leaders he saw as most effective?”

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Leadership: General Mattis On ‘Command And Feedback’, And The Use Of ‘Eyes Officers’

From his lead position, Mattis stayed close to the regiments involved in the fiercest fighting and got a good sense for events on the battlefield. The general refused to believe that images on a computer screen in the quiet hum of a command post could tell him what he needed to know about how the battle was progressing and what his subordinates required. Mattis could be ruthless; he would relieve the commander of one of his regiments in the middle of a campaign. In the marines, only performance counts. Mattis picked several officers to act as what he called his “eyes only” representatives. They had no authority but, he said, like “Frederick the Great’s focused telescope or Wellington’s lieutenants in the Peninsula Campaign,” they had the duty of wandering the battlefield to keep him informed of things they thought he needed to know: troops or officers who were exhausted by combat, supplies that were not reaching the front line, and the other human factors that can be crucial in combat. -page 116 and 117 of The Iraq War: A Military History, By Williamson Murray, Robert Scales

The Slate put this out last year, but I just recently stumbled upon it and wanted to share. General Mattis is a Marine’s Marine and he is very much respected. With that said, when I found out that he was implementing some concepts that are familiar here in Jundism and some of my leadership posts, I perked up.

Specifically, the mystery shopper concept or having folks on the inside of your organization to give you some honest feedback about the true health of your company or military unit. With this data, you can actually make adjustments to policy that will better serve the mission or contract.

I also liked the focus on innovation and gaining feedback. Or, command and feedback, which is a play on the phrase command and control. This also led to the best quote in the article below about where that feedback or innovation could come from.

If you are always on the hunt for complacency, argues Mattis, you will reward risk-takers, and people who thrive in uncertainty. “Take the mavericks in your service,” he tells new officers, “the ones that wear rumpled uniforms and look like a bag of mud but whose ideas are so offsetting that they actually upset the people in the bureaucracy. One of your primary jobs is to take the risk and protect these people, because if they are not nurtured in your service, the enemy will bring their contrary ideas to you.”

That is awesome and all companies and military units should learn from this. Leaders should dare to listen and seek feedback from all quarters of their organization, and soldiers/contractors should dare to come forward and disagree, or present the better idea. Any policies and actions within an organization that supports this command and feedback process should be looked at and attempted.

We should constantly be supporting and pushing innovation within the ranks, and constantly seeking feedback and using these innovations in order to continuously improve the organization/mission/contract/war fighting/strategy. Awesome stuff. –Matt



Gen. James Mattis, USMC The general who is fighting a constant battle to keep the military innovating.
By John Dickerson
Aug. 9, 2011
When speaking to rising officers, Marine Gen. James Mattis likes to tell the story of the British Navy. At the turn of the 19th century, it had no rival in the world, but 100 years later it had grown complacent in dominance. Officers amassed rules, ribbons, and rituals that had little to do with the changing nature of war. “They no longer had captains of wars,” he tells them, “but captains of ships.”
As commander of the U.S. Central Command, Mattis oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but his career mission has been against complacency. In modern warfare the reliance on better technology and superior firepower deadens the talent for innovation, he argues. This blinds some officers to emerging threats and slows their ability to react to them. The U.S. military, he argues “must avoid becoming dominant and irrelevant.”

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