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Leadership and the Bottom Up

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A summary of the Prussian army’s leadership structure by historian Stephen Bungay provides a foundation for understanding  the power of bottom-up execution:

“1. A commanding officer should always give an order for an outcome, never for an action. This leads the person receiving the order to reflect on and interpret it with all his prior knowledge and in its relevant context.

2. The subordinate officer receiving the order was expected to report back tot the commanding officer how it was going to be executed, institutionalizing a feedback loop and ensuring that there would be no misunderstanding or any missing information from the top.

3. Officers were fully expected to deviate from orders from time to time, when they saw that this would be a more sensible course of action.  After all why have highly educated officers, if they are not allowed to exercise their own judgment? ‘Obedience is a principle, but the man stand above the principe,’ said Von Moltke in 1870, the Prussian general who designed the system.”

Referenced in Colander and Kupers’ “Complexity and the Art of Public Policy,” p. 214.