Leadership of Patton in Spite of Himself
George S. Patton is considered a great military leader by most. His name is synonymous with World War II. Yet, some considered him a foul mouthed leader with bullying qualities. Whatever the opinion is of him, he was one of America’s most successful generals. According to Harvey, Patton knew how to flatter his superiors yet he was anything but ingratiating to his subordinates (2008). Given this dual type of behavior it is often wondered how he was so successful at being a military leader.
It is important to remember that Patton comes from a family of leaders. This in itself does not necessarily make one a leader, but it provides a good foundation. In Patton’s case, his family background more than likely provided the stepping stone for not only his leadership skills, but his career path in the military. In spite of the fact that he was dyslexic, he was still considered by many a great leader. Patton seemed to have learned how to deal with his dyslexia which may have played an important role in his behavior.
At the time that Patton was diagnosed with dyslexia, there probably wasn’t much information on the disability as there is today. As mentioned earlier, he was ingratiating to his superiors yet brutal to his subordinates. The way in which he dealt with both his superiors and his subordinates could have been a defense mechanism or a way to cover up or hide his shortcomings. According to Tanner, many adults with dyslexia often consider themselves failures because of their specific inabilities and often take on brutal or severe personalities to compensate (2009).
By the same token, Patton may have ingratiated himself to his superiors also as a cover up. By presenting himself as an amenable individual, he was letting his superiors know that he is not a trouble maker and would go along with the program. Gaining the favor of those above him probably gave him a little more leeway in the manner in which he treated his subordinates. Whatever the case may be, these tactics seemed to have worked out well for Patton.
Every leader has their method of leading. Patton was no different and there are several different accounts of how he chose to lead his subordinates. Shane says that even though Patton’s subordinates may have called him names behind his back that they wouldn’t dare say to him, there was a level of respect because the Patton was always upfront with his men in what he expected from them in terms of leadership and he never asked them to do anything that he wasn’t willing to do himself (1943). This suggests that Patton was a good leader because in spite of him many faults, his subordinates respected him. His manner may have been harsh at times, but he was probably not considered a tyrant. and, the fact that he was willing to do whatever he asked of his troops would garner him nothing but respect.
When there is respect for an individual, there is also usually loyalty. Patton, no doubt had loyal subordinates that worked as a team to carry out his orders making them successful. This is another thing that made him such a great leader. He had the favor of his superiors and the respect and loyalty of his subordinates. Some may view his manner of speech as unorthodox, but overall it worked for him. He was aggressive and tenacious and did not give up. He may have been born with these qualities, but his military schooling and extracurricular activities probably helped to fully develop them.
As successful as Patton was, he was not immune to making poor decisions and terrible mistakes. Because Patton had a tough interior and exterior, he expected this of his subordinates. He was known to slap men whom he felt were showing signs of weakness. He did this to a few subordinates during visits to hospitals around the time of the battle of Messina. When Eisenhower heard of this, he wasn’t pleased and once reporters heard how Patton treated his mean, Eisenhower was under pressure. As a result, he passed over Patton for the position of commander of American ground forces (Ethier, 2001).
Patton may have made some mistakes during the course of his career. He may have also been known to be brutal to his subordinates and sometimes swore excessively. However, he was cunning and had a caring side to him. Patton had a son-in-law who had been captured in Tunisia and later imprisoned in Hammelburg, Germany. The troops were told they were to prepare for a special combat mission when in reality Patton had planned all along for his son-in-law to be rescued. He put many of his troop’s lives in danger because they didn’t have a clear understanding of what exactly their mission was. As a result, the mission was a disaster leaving many troops wounded or dead (Niderost, 2006). Nonetheless, Patton held his ground and that what he did was right.
Many things can be attributed to why Patton was such a successful military leader. His upbringing and education certainly played a part and some could argue that his being dyslexic manifested itself in a way that made him appear more aggressive and perhaps more threatening to those reporting to him. Patton knew how to work the room. He knew exactly how to deal with his superiors and he knew how to treat his subordinates in order to gain their respect and loyalty. His methods may not be considered politically correct in today’s world, but it is still widely believed many years after his death that he was one of the greatest military leaders of all time.
Ethier, E. (2001). Patton races to Messina. American History, 36(1), 38.
Harvey, R. (2008). Maverick military leaders: the extraordinary battles of Washington, Nelson, Patton, Rommel, and others. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.
Niderost, E. (2006). A fool’s errand. World War II, 21(4), 30-80.
Shane, T. (1943). These are the generals — Patton. Saturday Evening Post, 215(32), 19-82.
Tanner, K. (2009). Adult dyslexia and the ‘conundrum of failure’. Disability & Society, 24(6), 785-797.
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