America was about to enter World War II, and Gen. George S. Patton wanted his junior officers to have a clear picture of what he expected.
He gathered his men around a dining room table, at the center of which lay a limp noodle on a plate.
Patton began to push the noodle. It wiggled but scarcely moved.
Then, he grabbed one end and in a single motion pulled it across the plate. “Gentlemen,” he said, looking at them, “you don’t push … you lead.”
The ability to clearly convey his intentions made Patton [1885-1945] one of t he masterful leaders in U.S. military history.
He played key roles in Allied victories by leading American tank troops across Europe and North Africa. Dwight D. Eisenhower called him the best Allied general in Europe.
Perhaps because he was dyslexic, Patton understood the importance of careful instruction. In fact, wrote historian Roger Nye, Patton trained “his officers to be trainers.” It was always Patton’s style to teach, whether by explaining, harassing, cajoling or cursing.
An aunt decided to toughen him up by telling him about the great battles in the Bible and classical mythology and history. His father joined in with stories about relatives who’d fought in the Civil War.
Hour after hour, young Patton sat spellbound. Learning disability or not, he realized, he could become great by developing the character of a warrior.
Throughout his life, he studied the profiles and strategies of military heroes through the ages. And while still a youth, he listed the qualities he’d foster. In addition to becoming tactically aggressive, he decided to develop:
- Strength of character
- Steadiness of purpose
- Acceptance of responsibility
- Energy, good health and strength
Patton started out by acting the part.
“He began to affect personality traits,” wrote Carlo d’Este in “Patton: A Genius for War,” “in short, to reinvent himself in the guise of a rugged, macho male.”
Testing himself, he took chances that nearly cost him his life. But they proved he could develop the mettle he wanted.
For example, while marking targets during rifle practice at West Point, he stood up and “faced the firing line, unflinching, as bullets angrily splattered around him,” d’Este wrote.
Unless forced to stop, he always acted boldly. He adopted the motto of Frederick the Great, “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace” – “audacity, audacity, always audacity.”
Even after he became general, Patton spent hours in front of the mirror practicing his “war face,” a scowl he wore when addressing his men, directed himself to reduce his thoughts to as few words as possible. In doing so, he became a powerful communicator.
As a general, his orders were clear and rarely exceeded a single page. Quick to use the power of a clear picture, he’d often sketch a map on the back.
“Never tell people how to do things,” he wrote. “Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
Still, Patton insisted on discipline so strict that even other generals thought him a martinet.
“Lack of discipline at play means death, or defeat, which is worse than death.”
He’d assess a soldier’s level of discipline by his appearance – even in combat. Many of his tank troopers not only were clean-shaven at all times, but they also wore ties.
If Patton demanded much of his men, he also praised them when they delivered.
He thought that great courage or initiative in battle should be promptly rewarded with medals and other honors. If possible, he gave the awards himself. And he always gave credit for his victories to his men.
Panic reigned through much of the Allied forces. But Patton saw the battle as an opportunity to direct a killing blow at the Germans. He made plans to turn his troops, which had been heading east, northward to attack the German flank.
The years of training his officers and men to be as capable as he paid off.
“Only a commander with exceptional confidence in his subordinate commanders and in the professional skill of his fighting divisions could dare risk such a venture,” d’Este wrote.
In less than two days, Patton’s forces were turning the Germans back. Talking to reporters, the general gave full credit to his men.
“We hit the sons of bitches on the flank and stopped them cold. Now that may sound like George Patton is a great genius. Actually he had damned little to do with it. All he did was give orders.”
SOURCE: “MILITARY AND POLITICAL LEADERS & SUCCESS” (From IBD’s popular Leaders & Success section), with and introduction from William J. O’Neil, founder of INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005, pages 45-47.
Jakarta, 26 March 2014