Perfect Discipline?

By | January 20, 2017

[January 20, 2017]  The first book I ever read that dealt seriously with the topic of leadership and discipline was General George S. Patton’s book (1982 edition), War As I Knew It.1  For the U.S. military, the early 1980s was a time of change; moving from the legacy tactics of Vietnam to a modern, brigade-centric combat force.

“There is only one kind of discipline: perfect discipline.” – U.S. Army General George S. Patton2

My peer group of young Infantry Lieutenants was intrigued by the concept of discipline and how it can be a force multiplier in the Army’s new combat formations.  Of course there is no such thing as “perfect discipline,” and perhaps General Patton recognized it as such.

Patton often spoke that discipline was a combination of mutual trust and confidence among soldiers and their leaders.  It is, as he said, the “key to all success in peace or war.”  Our keen interest as junior officers turned from curiosity to close study.  We learned from our coursework that combat is, at best, organized chaos.  Discipline was the glue that held soldiers together and thus a military organization without it will fail.

Patton was one of the most combat experienced leaders in the U.S. military at the time, from his involvement in the Poncho Villa Expedition, to World Wars I and II.  He discovered in his time on the U.S. Western frontiers and in battle that there was no substitute for close, practiced study into the art of war.

The purpose of discipline in the military, both personal and team discipline, is to ensure orderly movement of combat forces.  Furthermore, it produces courage for the reason that it overcomes the natural desire of the mind to freeze in times of great stress.  And, it provides generally accepted standards of behavior while in combat.

Patton’s view of discipline works beyond the military and is especially pragmatic for complex business organizations.  He was keenly aware that obedience will be resisted by all human beings.  Yet by instilling discipline, individuals will lose this resistance and through constant repetition, obedience will become habitual and great things can be accomplished.

General Patton recognized the importance also of creativity in soldiers.  He once advised, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”  This allows us into the mind of a great leader and his focus on discipline.

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  1. My copy of the book is a paperback, edition is May 25, 1982. It was new when I bought it at Fort Benning, Georgia while attending the U.S. Army Infantry Officer Basic Course.  My book is in poor condition and a bit rag tagged but a prized possession of mine.
  2. General George S. Patton Thoughts on Discipline:


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.