Auftragstaktik and The Lack of Leadership in Advertising Industry

“No plan survives contact with enemy”
– Helmut von Moltke
 
I have met great people, personalities and borderline geniuses during my years in advertising. What have I encountered less is good leaders and visionary leadership.

The biggest problem in advertising industry is leadership problem. Majority of us (me included) have been promoted because we are great experts. We are good strategists, writers or suits but majority don´t have any experience or natural skills to lead or inspire teams. I would argue also that the major reason for churn in ad agencies is due to bad management and lack vision and strategic vigor. When you don´t have the vision you end up doing things yourself or micro-managing your team which naturally annoys any sensible person.

Because majority of leaders are former experts, only few can do the leap to strategic level from tactical grunt work. Contrary to the stereotypes, the right leadership approach to creative industries can be found from military strategy and of all places in usually rigid and authoritarian Germany. “Auftragstaktik” or Mission command in US, is a mission-type tactics doctrine, which promotes freedom and speed of action within defined constraints. The idea of Auftragstaktik originates with Frederick the Great, who was frustrated by the lack of initiative within his leaders. Military strategist Helmut von Moltke coined the actual idea hundred years later (whose quote above is one of the best articulations of strategy). Currently similar types of command are advocated in US, Canadian, Dutch and British armies. The basic idea of Augftagstaktik is simple:

  1. Leaders give the team clearly defined goal
  2. Leader gives the team specific timeframe to accomplish that goal
  3. Leader lets them accomplish that goal independently

Essentially in Auftragstik you say your team what you want them to achieve but you are not saying how they can achieve that. This should result to two benefits:

  1. The team has the ownership and pride of the particular project. They will become better at solving problems and you also cultivate future leaders. They are closer to the project/actual fight so they should do their decisions where things are actually happening.
  2. The leader frees his/her time from tactics and keeps focused on the broader strategy. The leader should have better visibility of business/the war so he/she should be able to show guidance and vision to the team.

If you cannot give responsibility to your team and don´t trust them, you have either made bad hires or you are control freak. Both things are naturally highly worrying. If your leadership is diluted to micro managing you do more harm than good in your company. Then your choices are either to evolve from manager to true leader by trusting your team or you just have to face the reality that you are not cut as a leader at the first place.

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