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Patton's leadership style


General George S. Patton (1885-1945) was a great military leader who was famous for his World War II exploits. However, his leadership principles are also applicable to martial arts instructors. Just as General Patton was a warrior who inspired and led his troops, martial arts instructors are warriors who inspire and lead their students.

Just as General Patton was fiercely loyal to his country, the Army, and his subordinates, martial arts instructors must be loyal to their arts, their organizations, and their students. They should pattern themselves after General Patton's leadership style.

General Patton constantly gave praise to others, ensuring that the lowest soldier (student) knew he or she was a vital part of every victory. He realized that a leader had to be an actor that projects an image of greatness, and his or her followers must be able to relate to that image. General Patton supported his subordinates (students), for he knew that a leader who gives support to subordinates will receive support from them. Patton learned all he could about his enemies (competitors), prepared alternative plans of action, selected the best one, and then committed himself to it.

General Patton's critics considered him arrogant and reckless, but his soldiers admired him as a great leader. He expressed the utmost in confidence in his people. When one of his generals expressed reluctance to lead an attack, General Patton told him he had complete confidence in him and was returning to headquarters to stay out of his way. When the general succeeded, General Patton gave him all the credit. If the general had failed, General Patton would have taken the blame. General Patton did not micromanage; he surrounded himself with competent people and allowed them to do their job. He only paid attention to details when they were important to the overall mission.

Leadership maxims

Some Patton leadership maxims that are applicable to martial arts instructors are:
  • Do more than is required. When the minimum requirements have been met, true leaders are just getting started. They know excellence comes from doing more than people expect of you.
  • Act beyond your fears. Do not deny fear. Learn to live with it. Courage is a learned skill.
  • Maintain a quick-acting line of communication. Do not put too many assistants between you and those who you lead. Directly communicate with the lower ranks (students) so you know their needs.
  • Be generous with praise. Being generous with praise, both in private and in public, will build loyalty.
  • Take action. When a decision needs to be made, make it. Subordinates fear indecision in their leaders.
George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the New York Yankees, considers General Patton the "go-to-guy" of World War II. A "go-to-guy" is the one everyone turns to when everything is going wrong. Sometimes, that person is not the formal leader; instead, he or she may be the informal leader. When things are going terribly wrong, people flock around the one who inspires and exudes confidence, the one they think can save them.

General Patton stressed preparation, teamwork, pride, motivation, and discipline. He would never ask his people to do anything that he was not willing to do himself.

  • Axelrod, A. (1999). Patton Leadership.

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