[April 24, 2016] In August 1944 during the Sicily Campaign of World War II, General George S. Patton slapped two U.S. Army soldiers for what believed to be cowardice. Patton was a hard driving, highly disciplined leader of troops during the war and was undeniably one of its most successful generals. Accepting criticism of these slapping incidents was not something he wanted to do.
After being privately reprimanded by his superiors, Patton personally apologized to each soldier and shook the hand of each. He also made a speech to each of the Army divisions under his Corps command about the two incidents. Initially Patton said that “it is rather a commentary on justice when an Army commander has to soft-soap a skulker to placate the timidity of those above.”1 Yet later he later wrote a letter expressing his remorse about the incidents.
“To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” – Aristotle, Philosopher
Patton, like many other successful leaders, was a tough perfectionist but cared deeply for the men under his command and would not ask them to do something he would not personally do himself. Leaders can be passionate as we see here in the behavior of Patton and that passion can be a two-sided coin; on the one hand driving the leader to do great things but on the other to conduct themselves in a manner not acceptable morally or ethically.
From the time we are children we all have difficulty accepting criticism. As grown men and women this can be a blemish on our character and can do harm to our authority as a leader and as a person. The battlefield is certainly not a place for pleasantries when it requires hardened troops to close with and destroy an enemy … but there is a need for some level of personal diplomacy. Leaders must prove they have it.
Leaders must have the aptitude to accept criticism. It takes practice and self-control, in particular during a crisis or emergency to be under control of one’s emotions. I have found it personally difficult during combat and so have those I know. But the impulse to lose control of our emotions can have disastrous affects for beyond simple disrespect of others.
Accepting criticism from others is a sign of an open mind and cooperative spirit. It can also make a person more effective as a leader, friend, spouse, or employee. General Patton realized it and he is an example of one who overcame an embarrassing incident to become the general who stopped the Nazi military’s last major offensive of the war.
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