General George S. Patton was born on November 11, 1885 on his fathers ranch and vineyard in Los Angeles County over what is today the city of Pasadena and much of the UCLA campus. Early in life he was small and weak, but raw determination and drive built up body day-by-day, piece-by-piece.
As a small boy, he delighted in his father’s stories about his family’s strong military lineage. He had a great uncle who was wounded at Second Bull Run, and ultimately lost his life at Pickett’s Charge during the battle of Gettysburg and a grandfather who was killed in the Third Battle of Winchester.
It was clear George was intelligent, but he had a very tough time learning to read and write. The result was George being pulled out of school and the beginning of his home education. Whether this was done for George’s sake, or out of the embarrassment of his parents is unknown. George’s learning difficulties included problems with reading, writing, spelling and overall concentration. Due to these struggles with education, George battled feelings of inferiority. George S. Patton, soon to be one the greatest generals in the history of warfare had dyslexia.
Despite his struggles with this ailment that was yet to be classified, he became an avid reader of military history especially warfare. His writing’s even into adulthood were full of spelling errors. His challenges with expression forced him to develop the communication skill of being able to precisely describe a situation or message in incredibly vivid detail, but in simple and understandable terms.
He decided to take on another challenge and enroll at the Virginia Military Institute for a year in preparation for an opportunity at entering West Point Academy. His objective was fulfilled in 1904 when he was accepted. His academic struggle continued. Plagued with failing math grades, he was forced to repeat part of his first year. Nonetheless, discipline dictated that he struggle on.
He compensated for is academic shortcomings by focusing on his physical side and continuing to build his body. In 1912 he competed on the U. S. pentathlon team, which included a 300-meter swim, pistol-shoot, a 4000-meter run, fencing, and a 5000-meter steeplechase. His team came in 5th, but his ability to exploit an opponent’s weakness in fencing brought about his recognition in Swedish newspapers. His boundless energy became a common descriptor of his character.
His extraordinary swordsmanship allowed him to attend a Calvary school in France, and then the Mounted Service School at Fort Riley, Kansas in 1913. There he eventually became an instructor and was appointed Master of the Sword.
With his ultimate desire to do battle, he took up arms in an expedition against Mexico’s legendary outlaw, Pancho Villa. The United States attempted to engage Villa after he was involved in the execution of over 15 Americans and an attack on a New Mexico city. While Pancho Villa continued to evade capture, there were enough skirmishes with Villa’s followers to provide Patton an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership ability. This ability earned Patton the promotion to captain in 1917.
In April of the same year, the United States entered the World War I. This was Patton’s opportunity for real combat. His first contribution to the initiative was to become the first officer to receive tank training. Soon after he completed his own training, he was asked to set up the AEF tank school in France ultimately leading the First Tank Brigade into battle. After several other battles, he returned to the US in1919 where he was promoted to major and given command of the 304th Tank Brigade at Fort Meade.
Soon after, he attended the Command and General Staff School with honors in 1923, and then attended the Army War College in 1932. During this time frame he was appointed to the army’s general staff in 1927, chief of cavalry in 1928, and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1934 and finally colonel in 1937. In 1940 he took command of the Second Armored Brigade. His next step was the promotion to temporary brigadier general, then major general, and then was given finally given command of the Second Armored Division in 1941.
Patton, metaphorically speaking, was all dressed up with no place to go. This was all about to change with the emergence of another war that would consume the entire world. With war looming, the US began to conduct a series of war games in which Patton proved his tactical, and leadership superiority and received the attention of his superiors. To Patton’s disappointment, his performance did not land him on the front line in preparation for the greatest of wars, but instead landed him in command of creating a Desert Training Center. Before the Nazi’s were to be engaged in Europe, they were to be engaged in North Africa and it was Patton’s job to ensure that the United States was prepared for desert war.
Patton’s first taste of World War II combat came during operation TORCH, which was the landing of the first U. S. troops in North Africa. After a stunning U. S.defeat at Kasserine Pass, Patton was sent in to ensure the success of the II Corp’s.
Upon his arrival at II Corp headquarters, he immediately identified the problem as lack of leadership, and discipline. The troops were disheveled, un-kept, and represented a dull edge as opposed to a razor sharp combat unit. One of his first command decisions was the enforcement of regulation uniforms, including the wearing of neckties, leggings, and helmets. The objective was to ensure that each time a solider knotted his tie, put on their leggings, or buckled their helmets; they would be reminded that the days of Kasserine Pass and defeat were over.
In a remarkably short time, Patton transformed the II Corps into a world-class fighting force. The daily discipline of dress was a part of Patton’s belief in consistency and a solid daily routine. His troops at first resented such treatment, but then it became a token of pride. Patton’s troops looked different than the other units and soon they began to act different as well. Patton learned that when his troops were off hour, or going into town that they were taking off their neckties and dressing down. Patton soon issued a directive that any officer would be court-martialed if they had two incidents of their subordinates not adhering to dress code. He set an expectation and expected his people to follow it.
Patton took over the Seventh Army and drove this organization to successfully liberate Sicily. From there, Patton was given command of the Third Army, which was stationed in Calais as a decoy for the Normandy invasion. Germany knew that Patton was a force not to be taken lightly. Seeing Patton positioned in Calais, they immediately redeployed their forces in preparation for an attack that would never come.
After Normandy was opened up after the D-Day invasion, Patton’s Third Army swept across Europe unprecedented in terms of ground liberated or captured, the distance covered, and speed of execution. To further add to his legacy and that of the Third Army, he turned his half-million man army around to march north to Bastogne where a surprise German offensive had pinned down the 101st Airborne nearly derailing the invasion.
With Germany’s surrender, Patton was assigned as the military governor of Bavaria. After a few more politically incorrect statements, Patton was relieved of his command of the Third Army and placed in charge of the group that’s chief objective was to compile a history of the war. That was his final position in Europe until he was killed. Patton didn’t die a hero’s death, but rather was thrown out of his vehicle on a road near Mannheim on December 9.
Patton believed that the lack of discipline for an officer or for an army was equivalent to committing murder. He understood that attention to detail wasn’t just for success; it was for survival. While decisions in the modern business environment might not cost you your life, it could cost you your livelihood.
Aubie Pouncey is a member of the http://www.righttolead.com leadership team. His skills are designed around performance management and he has worked hard to develop several important eBooks for leaders. The best know is: http://www.accountabilityprocess.com