Tag Archives: George Patton

“We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people.”

Focused, but uncharacteristically tame words from old “Blood and Guts“, as he was often called, General George S. Patton. Many have reviled Patton for his often inappropriate remarks and tough leadership style, but few fault his battlefield successes. Patton believed in plain talk and direct action.

Project management is about leadership … sometimes tough and often direct.

Patton’s tough leadership style was tuned to the art and science of war. In spite of his “blood and guts” style, Patton knew how to gain the best from his men.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

He championed the strength of the individual, but he also understood the value of a team in achieving a goal.

An Army is a team … individual heroic stuff is pure horseshit … Every man is a vital link in the great chain.

In our world of political correctness and “feelings”, the hard-driving management style of Patton looks foreign and out-of-place. Out-of-place, but still effective. Patton’s style motivated his teams to achieve beyond what they or anyone else thought was possible. Patton played to his teams with a winner’s message,

Americans play to win at all times. I wouldn’t give a hoot and hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost nor ever lose a war.

But projects are not wars; projects are not battles. Projects do, however require good leaders. Is the blood-and-guts “Patton style” effective in project management?

I became a project manager and a team leader during the 1980s, when Patton-style management was commonplace, especially in IT and Consulting. High impact, high stress projects, commonly started with a 10-20% resource “buffer” to balance the expected attrition. Long hours and the get-it-done-or-be-pushed-aside style took high tolls on project resources. Only “the strong” survived.

With the Patton style, a manager could move forward with the same rhetoric and method regardless of the team. It was simple and direct. The method that worked with Team A on Project B, should also work with Team C on Project D. Success was not necessarily related to a particular team, it was about the method.

I can offer personal testimony that, yes, the Patton method of project management does work. You cannot, however, allow progress to slow for those team members who fall by the wayside. Again from General Patton,

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.

The Patton style of project management, unfortunately, is often used to compensate for incomplete planning, improper estimating or insufficient risk management processes. Failures are turned into “successes”, as teams spend nights and weekends trying to make up for management mistakes. When it happens too often, burnout occurs and we end up “[thanking] God that such men lived”.

As my career in IT management progressed, I shifted my leadership style to that of another World War II general,  Dwight D. Eisenhower. As President, he wrote,

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

Good project leadership is not about forcing an outcome, but inspiring a direction. I certainly could herd the cats and drive my teams, but in doing so, I saw that became the project engine. Remove me and the momentum declined. Using Eisenhower approach to move teams, allows the teams to deliver with or without the “engine”, because they want to do it. The teams move toward a self-motivating, self-managing state.

Successful projects bring the entire team to the point of completion … with growth, not attrition.

Both the Patton and the Eisenhower methods can achieve the same end result, a project successfully delivered. But the Eisenhower approach can require more effort from the manager. So, why employ a style that adds overhead?

Simply stated, attrition costs money. Casting off the casualties, might not hurt a particular project’s budget, but it eventually has a measurable impact on the company’s bottom line. Recruiting and training new resources costs money.

Instead of the use-and-discard of overworked resources, employing effective project processes and improving team member skills can deliver motivated teams who return the company’s investment with loyalty and improved performance.

While delivered as a joking remark, President Eisenhower also pointed out that,

leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.

Delivered in jest or with sincerity, project managers know that truer words were never spoken. We ultimately take have to take responsibility for failures, as we are coordinating the attack. The real work is performed by our teams, who deserve the credit.

Today’s project managers should follow the Eisenhower methodology, inspiring their teams to “do something you want done because [they] want to do it.” Failure to do so can leave project managers acting out the infamous words of another World War II general, Douglas MacArthur,

We are not retreating – we are advancing in another direction.


Related content:

“The General George S. Patton Story”, Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Narrated by Ronald Reagan, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvL0tj9ZaoY&noredirect=1

“Patton’s Speech to the 3rd Army prior to D-Day “, http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2398239/posts