Lead Like Patton – NOT

General George Patton was in many ways an incredible leader and one who certainly had a significant impact on the outcome of World War II in Europe. While General Patton definitely utilized some leadership approaches worthy of modeling, some of his other tactics are not well suited for leadership today. In the Academy Award winning movie Patton (1970), there’s a scene where General Patton (played by George C. Scott) is harsh with several of his men. One of Patton’s aides offers a suggestion, and the General responds (see below):

Codman: You know, General, sometimes the men don’t know when you’re acting.

Patton: It’s not important for them to know. It’s only important for me to know.

While this approach (not letting your team know if you’re serious or what you’re thinking) might be appropriate in a combat situation where your goal is fear and uncertainty, this is not effective communication or leadership if your goal is building trust and influence.

Not only is it helpful for your team to know what you’re thinking (versus being forced to guess) and to be able to trust your word and your motives, it’s also valuable to share your thinking and motives with your team. This not only helps them understand your decisions, but also gives them insights into you and your leadership.

Leaders are intentional and purposeful with their communication, including their words, their tone, their body language, etc. Ideally, you will typically communicate in a very intentional way, but if your team is not aware of your intentions, they may misconstrue or misunderstand your intentions and your message. One key trait of impactful leaders is that they are clear with their communication and their intentions. Keeping your team members guessing generally will not serve you, your team or your mission.

Another reality for leaders (because we’re all human) is that we will experience a wide range of emotions. Despite our desires and proclamations that we do not get emotional, emotions are a reality and, as such, it’s important for leaders to be willing to authentically share their emotions with their team members. Too often leaders pretend to not have emotions and thus believe that no one knows what they’re feeling, but the reality is that your team members experience (or are targeted by) your emotions, even if you’re not aware of it. Absent clear communication and ownership, your team members will make their own assessments and assumptions of not only your emotions, but what those emotions mean relative to themselves. As discussed above, leadership is about clarity, which requires that you be similarly clear about your emotions and emotional reactions so that your team members don’t have to guess and, more important, won’t end up being the victim of your emotions (even if unintended).

While Patton’s fear-based leadership apparently served him and his troops well in World War II, this approach to leadership is not the way of the authentic and empowering leader. In today’s business and relationship reality, Patton is not a leader worth following when it comes to communication clarity.

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