For twenty-two years (1919-41) Adolf Hitler was a highly successful political entrepreneur (although he did commit several strategic blunders). Then things went south real fast – and in less than four years he lost his war, his country and ultimately his life.
His colossal errors committed during these years caused death or grave injuries of millions of Germans, almost complete destruction of German infrastructure and loss of additional one-quarter of German lands (in addition to armed robbery at Versailles that is).
It is often said the wars are won by those who commit fewer mistakes (consequently, the wars are lost by those who commit more mistakes and/or more serious mistakes).
That was exactly the case with Adolf Hitler and the Second Great War. He committed more mistakes (in fact, much more) than his adversaries and his mistakes were much worse. So (contrary to almost universal misconception) the Allies did not win the war – Adolf Hitler lost it.
Both his grandiose successes and his spectacular failures had a lot to do with his personality traits (the latter also with his deteriorating health), but both were mostly determined by his leadership and management style – his principles, beliefs, practices, etc.
And that’s exactly what I will analyze in this section.
Adolf Hitler was a quintessential Army man – in a civilian life he was a misfit, a loser and an outcast while in the Army he was a hero and a model soldier. Consequently, it is no surprise that he was extremely uncomfortable in a civilian life and felt perfectly at home.
It is no surprise either that after he came to power, he structured his Germany (since the day Reichstag passed the Enabling Act it was, indeed, his) as one giant army – complete with ranks, uniforms, banners, etc.
And (again not surprisingly) instituted the Führerprinzip (“Führer’s principle”) as the fundamental rule in the management system of his Führerstaat (“Führer’s State”).
The Führerprinzip stipulates structuring of any organization (and of the state and the nation as a whole) as a hierarchy of leaders, where every leader has absolute responsibility in his designated area, demands absolute obedience from those below him and answers only to his superiors.
The supreme leader (i.e. Adolf Hitler) answers to God and (theoretically) the German people. He viewed himself as the “living law” (the highest law itself) effectively combining in his persona all three powers (branches) of the government – executive, legislative and judicial.
Adolf Hitler did not invent the Führerprinzip. The first one to use the term was one Hermann Alexander Graf von Keyserling – a Baltic German philosopher. Believe it or not, but von Keyserling was actually a pacifist – believed that the old German policy of militarism was dead for good and that Germany’s only hope lay in the adoption of peaceful, democratic principles.
It is not known whether Adolf Hitler was familiar with von Keyserling’s works. Most likely he wasn’t – he simply took the key Army organization principle and adopted it to civilian government.
The problem with the Führerprinzip (a major problem, actually) is that it works only under certain conditions. Which are present in the Army and other branches of the armed forces… but not in the civilian government. Consequently, it is no surprise that in Germany both the Führerprinzip and the Führerstaat ultimately failed. And failed miserably.
First, for the Führerprinzip to work, each leader/manager has to have clearly defined areas of responsibility that do not overlap. It is (most of the time) the case in the Army, Navy and Air Force… unfortunately, civilian government is a different beast entirely.
Führerprinzip worked wonders for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis as long as it was confined to just one organization – NSDAP. The Nazi Party. When Hitler acquired dictatorial power in Germany, he suddenly found himself managing not one, but several organizations – the party, the government, the Wehrmacht and the SS (of which he had little, if any, control – it was run exclusively by Heinrich Himmler).
Functional areas of these monstrous entities overlapped and overlapped so fundamentally that there was simply no way to separate them. Which immediately created fundamental conflicts between the corresponding leaders in these organizations. Which, in turn, made the whole system not exactly efficient (and sometimes a total mess).
Second, there must be no micromanagement by superior leaders. In other words, authority must be properly delegated downwards. Practically all Hitler’s subordinates (Himmler, Goebbels, Göring, Bormann, etc.) were excellent at delegating (especially Himmler).
Unfortunately for the Third Reich, Hitler was not. He was a micromanager par excellence which inevitably led to a colossal overload and to a no less colossal stress. Which, in turn, predictably all but destroyed his health and led to colossal strategic blunders that cost him his was, his state, his civilization and his life.
Third, the subsystem under management by every leader must be relatively simple. Which is the case in the armed forces but is definitely not the case in the civilian government. Which predictably led to overload, stress and more or less significant blunders.
Fourth, the absolutely crucial requirement is that the Führerprinzip must be supported by a highly efficient system of selecting and training the leaders. Which was relatively easy to do in the Armed Forces (in fact, both the German Imperial Army and the Wehrmacht were the best in the world in this area)… but a far more difficult endeavor in the civilian government.
Hence, the Führerprinzip worked very well (worked genuine miracles, in fact) as long as Hitler had only one organization – NSDAP – under management. It worked for a while in the whole government – during the reforms of 1933-38 (which were a surprisingly simple endeavor from purely organizational perspective).
And with outbreak of World War II all hell broke loose (literally). While the Wehrmacht (and SS – to an extent) had well-established and highly efficient procedures for replacing the fallen commanders, the civilian government did not.
Consequently, when the competent government officials were inevitably drafted into Wehrmacht in droves, there was no way to replace them with equally competent managers and professionals. Which made the quality of German government at all levels go south at astonishing speed.
And, finally, the Führerprinzip-based Führerstaat lacked the absolutely vital component – the risk management system whose function was to prevent the Supreme Leader (Adolf Hitler) from committing serious blunders. Which predictably led to exactly such catastrophic errors, defeat in the Second Great War and Hitler’s suicide in the Führerbunker.