Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from a National Hero

"I do not fear failure. I only fear the ‘slowing up’ of the engine inside of me which is pounding, saying, 'Keep going, someone must be on top, why not you?'"– General George Smith Patton, Jr.

Last week, I attended a three-day meeting in Virginia Beach with a CEO strategy group called Trendsetters. In his opening remarks, host Dick Thurmond, President of William E. Wood & Associates, spoke proudly of the Virginia Beach area and how this part of Virginia has played a large role in protecting our country. Virginia Beach is home to several United States Military bases.

Inspired by Dick Thurmond's remarks, I am devoting this week’s thoughts on leadership to General George Smith Patton, Jr., a United States Army officer best known for his leadership while commanding corps and armies as a general during World War II.

General Patton decided early in his childhood that his goal in life was to become a hero.

He was born on November 11, 1885 in San Gabriel, Calif. His ancestors had fought in the Revolutionary War, the Mexican War and the Civil War, and he grew up listening to stories of their brave and successful endeavors. His upbringing was a driving force behind his ascent to leadership.

In 1912, he represented the United States at the Stockholm Olympics in the first Modern Pentathlon. Swedish newspapers praised him saying his energy was incredible and he was skillful in exploiting his opponent’s every weakness.

Patton was commissioned in the U.S. Army after his graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1909 and later became known as one of the greatest military leaders in history.

His more memorable military leadership achievements were proving himself a master tactician during the largest, most ambitious military training maneuvers the U.S. Army had ever staged. On the eve of the nation’s entry into World War II, and as commanding general of the Third Army, he relentlessly drove across France and into Germany, destroying more of the enemy and liberating more towns than any other commander in the history of American arms.

General Patton's leadership achievement that is most meaningful to me is the tactical miracle he performed at the Battle of the Bulge, turning the troops – who were exhausted from three months of forced march and continual battle – 90 degrees north to launch a bold counterattack into the southern flank of the German army to rescue encircled U.S. forces. In fact, my father served in Patton’s Third Army, was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and as a result received a Purple Heart from General Patton and General Eisenhower. Under General Patton, the Third Army went farther and faster than any other army in the history of warfare.

General Patton’s determination and leadership ability was legendary. Anyone who is serious about leadership should pay close attention to his leadership principles:

  • Lead from the front, not from behind.
  • Always look and act like a leader in everything you do.
  • Share the risks, the liabilities, and the credit with those you lead.
  • Opportunities are easily lost. Better to act on a good plan than to wait for perfection, which may never come.
  • Know exactly what you are doing. Know what you know - and what you do not know.
  • Leadership by remote control is bound to fail. Get out from behind your desk and into the world.
  • When you see a problem, don’t cast blame. Work the problem. Fix it now.
  • Choose your battles. Don’t waste resources on worthless fights.

Patton revealed himself as a daringand clever warrior, an exceptional strategist, an inspiring commander, a masterful motivator and most importantly, a gifted leader.

Learn from Patton's example as you progress and grow in your own role as a leader.