07 Mar On Patton and getting back to real organizational leadership
Before political correctness and other “folksy euphemisms” for lackluster, mediocre operational approaches to organizational management, a General named George Patton took an army of Americans from a rag-tag outfit to a well-disciplined, well-supplied army that was second to none in World War II.
His approach was a no-nonsense, lead-by-example, winning attitude that was needed at the time of facing some impossible objectives. Many today in both the public and private sectors, could use a few pages out of his leadership playbook as well as a couple more on his management of resources.
Some people have forgotten him and younger people may have never even heard of him. He was definitely s controversial leader, but in terms of success he “got things done faster, more decisively and most importantly, at a lower cost in that most important and cruelest price of warfare, the lives of his soldiers, than everyone else,” according to retired USAFR Major General William A. Cohen.
How do CEOs learn from Patton?
Many business schools should take a look at Patton’s achievements and teach organizational management from a pragmatic standpoint, rather than a conceptual standpoint that sometimes cannot be applied in real situations. Unfortunately, most management schools are not leadership schools.
There are several blogspots that focus on poor CEOs and their performance. One blog discussed the Five Worst CEOs of 2007, which included those from BP, Caterpillar, GE, Pepsi-Co, and Wal-Mart. According to the author:
“These CEO’s accepted global warming alarmism without facts and failed to anticipate the unintended consequences on their products.”
Another segment would be the financial CEOs. Those would include CEOs from Countrywide Financial, CitiBank and others that got crushed in the sub-prime mortgage crisis that is now seeping into the regular mortgage market.
Another CEO that could be put into this category would be Ed Zander, who was supposed to turn around Motorola.
Take a look at these CEOs across these organizations that have stagnated their performance. If they were considered the generals of these organizations, Patton would have dismissed them in a heartbeat. They would not have gotten any golden parachutes for their poor performance either. Patton was not a leader who would tolerate failure, let alone reward it.
The following comments are based on a book I first read several years ago as well as some other sources that I have researched. The book was Patton on Leadership, by Alan Axelrod (1999).
Instilling a sense of urgency
To regain the competitiveness that some say the United States has lost, we need to re-instill those executive qualities and “sense-of-urgency” in organizations through a new breed of executives. Some of the executive facets they should have are:
• A leadership attitude (with a sense-of-urgency).
• A repertoire of leadership skills.
• A leadership image.
• The ability to both speak and write effectively.
• The ability to be creative, adaptive and flexible.
• The ability to understand the competition.
• The ability to create and maintain a quality atmosphere for production and performance.
• The mentoring skills to bring the most out of their subordinates.
• And as the book mentions – the ability of managing the impossible.
There are so many books on various styles of management on the shelves of bookstores that you would think we would have excellent corporate executives. The truth is, many have concerned themselves more with their own trappings and golden parachutes than the success of their organizations.
Since the debacles at Enron, TYCO, and WorldCom, some safeguards have been put in to focus on performance, but executive compensation is still not completely tied to performance.
According to the book, “Patton would tell you that the only meaningful way to evaluate a leader and his or her methods is by looking at the results.”
Remembering Patton’s lessons
Patton’s lessons on leadership contain some excellent ideas and of encouragement.
• Do more than is expected of you.
• Always attack. Never Surrender (In business – always push the market).
• Wars are not won by defensive tactics. (Neither are market shares).
• In the long run, it’s what we do, not what we say, that will destroy us.
• Good tactics can save the worst strategy. Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy.
• Select leaders for accomplishment and not for affection.
• No one is thinking if everyone is thinking alike.
• Lack of orders is no excuse for inaction.
• We can always learn from each other.
There are many more that you can get out of the book.
Churning of the bad apples
If we are to get organizations back into great shape, maybe the approach of rotating one bad CEO from one company to the next should be abandoned. We should stop churning the same bad apples from one barrel to another and start bringing in new executives with fresh ideas. If someone messed up one organization, how are they supposed to come in and be the savior for another one? The results are pretty predictable.
How many poor-performing CEOs have you seen go from one company to the next, collecting a couple of golden parachutes in the process while they messed up many subordinates’ careers through their lack of strategy and uncreative cost-cutting approach to try to show profitability.
Patton would have never allowed that. Bad management gets relieved and demoted, not rewarded. Maybe we should start with that reform in corporate leadership.
Carlini-ism: No one follows hollow slogans or rah-rah approaches to management. Lead by example.
Recent articles by James Carlini
• James Carlini: Column on abuse of H-1B program ignites feedback
• James Carlini: H-1B is broken, but which candidate will fix it?
• James Carlini: Blueprint for big broadband not quite big enough
• James Carlini: Not up to speed: What real broadband is all about
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See James Carlini interviewed by the STRASSMAN REPORT out of California. The 30-minute video discusses the need for planning Gigabit network infrastructure today in order to be globally competitive tomorrow.
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.