What Lessons can be learned from the Command Style of General George S Patton?

“Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.”

– Gen. George S. Patton

General Patton once stated, “Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” Great leaders in the past have much to teach us, and by studying some of their successes and failures, we become better leaders ourselves. Patton is widely considered one of the most famous and effective military leaders of the past century. He produced more results, in less time, with fewer casualties than any other general, in any army during WW2.

His bold tactics and impressive ability to instill trust in his troops were instrumental in turning the tides of the decisive Battle of the Bulge. During this key time of the war, his proposed strategy was so audacious many of his superiors thought it impossible. However, it is now considered one of the top 10 military moves of all time.

After much convincing and finally getting the OK from his superior, Gen. Eisenhower, Patton wasted no time, went straight to the front of the line, and took charge of the bold maneuver himself. Carlo D’Este wrote in the Quarterly Journal of Military History, “to prepare for a major counterattack in less than 72 hours was astonishing. 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.” His unexpected tactics and his swift implementation of them surprised the Germans and saved hundreds of lives in the process. This not only took courage, confidence, and guts, it required unfaltering discipline and trust throughout his chain of command.

We as business leaders can learn a great deal from Patton and his effectiveness on the battlefield. In this one shortly summarized story, we can see various invaluable leadership qualities this man possessed and apply them to a business perspective. Patton had the utmost confidence and trust in his “managers” and employees to accomplish his audacious goals. Patton had unwavering willpower to pursue these goals and the fortitude to ignore those who believed it impossible. He possessed long-run vision, ability to discover weaknesses in the competition and waste no time to exploit them. He wrote in his journal countless times “do the unexpected.”

Patton’s leadership style can be best summed up in his following quotes which remain remarkably relevant to this day: “Do everything you ask of those you command.” Patton believed leadership was done from the front, he understood that no one would follow a leader that didn’t know what the work was like first-hand; “No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.”  In the military, if you spend all of your time in the office, you have no idea of what real combat is like. Patton believed he could not lead his men effectively unless he got his hands dirty himself.  That way he could understand exactly what he was asking of them. His inspirational style and aura rubbed off on people fighting beside him, and it came from setting a personal example. Finally, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

If you have faith in your employees, train them properly, trust in their discipline, get your hands dirty in the trenches, and lead from the front, there is no mountain too high they won’t be willing to climb for you. Have the courage to be audacious and the fortitude to resist those who tell you it is impossible or going to fail. These are just a few examples of the wisdom displayed by one of the most successful military leaders of the past century, an inspiring individual that any business leader can learn a great deal from.

Kelly D. Scott
The world’s leading business advisory and executive coaching organization