Recently, we have been discussing the Spartan 36 Solutions Leadership Principles: Competence, Initiative, Purpose, and Integrity. These principles make up the foundation of good leadership and serve as a leader’s guidepost. This week, we will take a more in-depth look at the second Spartan 36 Solutions Leadership Principle, initiative.
"In case of doubt, attack." - General George S. Patton.
Initiative is the single most differentiating factor of greatness. We rarely celebrate, or even know of, the second person to accomplish a great task. Who was the second person to break the sound barrier in level flight after "Chuck" Yeager? Who led the second expedition to summit Mount Everest after Sir Edmund Hillary? And, who was next African American to take the field after Jackie Robinson? There is no doubt that the second person to do all of these things accomplished what were once insurmountable tasks. However, the reason the number 42 was retired from all of baseball was because Robinson was the first. Yeager, Hillary, and Robinson are all household names because, in part, of their initiative.
It is hard to find a historical leader with more initiative than General George S. Patton. We get our first glimpse into Patton’s initiative in 1916 when he joined General “Black Jack” Pershing in the hunt for Pancho Villa in Mexico. (Then) Lieutenant Patton cornered Villa’s bodyguard and some of his fighters in a hacienda. Patton quickly maneuvered on the hacienda, the former Olympian jumped the walls, and returned fire killing two of Villa’s men. When he returned to his camp with the two bandits strapped to the top of his car, Pershing remarked, “This Patton boy – he’s a real fighter.”
General Patton was famously frustrated by what he perceived as a lack of initiative by senior allied commanders throughout the Second World War. During the campaign across Northern Africa, Patton relieved the 1st Armored Division commander for not pushing the initiative against a smaller German armored force. During Operation Husky General Patton was irate with his supporting role to Field Marshal Montgomery’s British army. When Montgomery’s forces became mired in the muck and muddy roads, Patton seized the opportunity to take Messina from the Italian and German forces himself.
In December of 1944 Patton’s initiative was on full display at a conference of the Allied senior commanders on the European front. The conference was called as a reaction to the German offensive that would become the Battle of the Bulge. When the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, asked Patton how quickly he could commence a counterattack, Patton replied, “As soon as you are through with me…. I will be in Bastogne before Christmas” (only six days away). Patton’s bravado was not without merit. Prior to leaving for the conference he ordered his staff to draw up plans for the attack and had only to pick up the phone and deliver the coded message, “Play Ball.” On December 26th, Patton’s forced reached Bastogne.
Patton’s initiative is the reason behind his successes in combat. Throughout World War II Patton’s commands were placed in supporting roles to the Allied main effort. Despite this, General Patton continued to seize opportunities to launch bold attacks and to press the German forces. When other commanders hesitated, Patton attacked. Because of this, General Patton’s supporting roles ended with him as the victorious commander. Initiative is the greatest lesson we can learn from General George S. Patton.