By Gino Blefari
We all have our heroes.
The altruistic, esteemed characters who, in our minds, occupy a space no one else can ever fill.
For me, one of those heroes is General George S. Patton, a man best known for his command of the Third United States Army during World War II. Not only does Patton win the title of hero because he was a brilliant U.S. commander and leader but also because he was such a man for my own father, who served under Patton during the Battle of the Bulge, a major World War II German offensive fought in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany from December 1944 to January 1945. (My father would go on to receive two purple hearts for his bravery fighting with Patton’s Third Army.)
During the Battle of the Bulge, Patton was single-handedly responsible for combating German forces that threatened to destroy entire American armies, with a decisive choice to turn his troops 90 degrees north. The decision allowed for a counterattack on the southern flank of the German army and American victory was soon declared.
Recently, I read Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, a frank investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding Patton’s death. I chose the book because I’m fascinated by the life of this heroic figure and how nearly 70 years after he led his troops onto hostile foreign terrain, his principled brand of leadership – straightforward, stirring and relentless – is just as significant today, both on the battlefield and in business.
The study of General Patton is a study in boldness, candor and truth. And what business leader doesn’t aspire to achieve these qualities when leading his or her employees in the constant fight to accomplish their goals? What manager wouldn’t want to possess these characteristics when running a company? And, what agent wouldn’t want to be bold and courageous as Patton while sitting across from an opponent, negotiating for a client’s best interests?
Here’s how George M. Steinbrenner III, the late owner of the New York Yankees, once described Patton’s leadership philosophy: “Put all the pieces in place, give your people every opportunity to succeed and they will do so. Give people goals they understand and they will meet them. Set the bar high and your people will raise themselves to meet it.”
Of course, Patton applied this philosophy as he worked under extremes; financial loss or gain didn’t hang in the balance, and instead Patton dealt in the currency of human lives, which he was both responsible for protecting and tasked with motivating for the greater good of his country and ultimately, the world.
Now, our responsibilities may not seem as grand in scale or as pressure-packed or high-staked. Still, there’s much to be learned from Patton’s story, and much to understand in the narrative of a man who went beyond the ranks of ordinary leadership to become a true hero.