In WWII, during the Sicily campaign, US General George S. Patton received an urgent communication from one of his commanders on the front lines.
It read: “Urgent! We are under heavy attack by the Germans. We are digging in and will attempt to hold our positions.”
Patton quickly gathered all the intelligence (information and data) about the German attack and his own commander’s forces.
Patton analyzed the desperate situation, using the data provided. From his much broader perspective and vast battlefield experience, Patton issued an immediate Order back to his commander on the front line:
“Do not dig in, and do not hold your positions. I am Ordering an immediate, full attack on the German’s left flank.”
Patton waited almost a full hour without a response. Patton then issued another communication:
“Urgent! Confirm receipt and execution of my previous ATTACK ORDER, IMMEDIATELY.”
Patton waited again, but this time only 15 minutes, and still no response.
Furious, Patton and his staff quickly jumped in their Command Jeep and rushed to the front lines where he found his commander and troops “dug in”, trying desperately to hold their ground, while under a vicious attack by the Germans.
Patton’s troops were taking heavy causalities (hundreds had already been killed or wounded), and Patton himself could have easily been killed. Patton screamed at the commander as to why his ATTACK ORDER was not immediately followed.
The young commander said to Patton, “Sir, I could not follow your order. You can see the grave situation here. We are under heavy fire. We are taking heavy casualties. It would be suicide to attack now. I will not lead men to their slaughter.”
Patton was infuriated. This was insubordination: Failing to follow a direct order. Punishable by Court Martial.
Patton immediately relieved the man of his command and is quoted as saying: “Your fired! Your men are being slaughtered right now you idiot.”
He turned to the next ranking officer and said: “You are in charge now. Directly under my command. Let’s lead these men to victory, and if not, let no man come back alive.”
Within minutes Patton, under his strong confident and decisive leadership, and with his newly appointed young commander, had the entire Corps in a full attack on the German’s left flank, where Patton’s intelligence told him the German’s were vulnerable.
Amazingly and almost miraculously, in just a little over an hour, Patton’s troops completely annihilated the Germans. The intelligence was 100% correct. The German’s allowed their entire left flank to go completely unguarded.
The biggest miracle however was this: Patton’s men suffered less than 12 casualties (wounded, none killed), during the entire attack, compared to over 300 hundred American soldiers killed and wounded while being “dug in” and “holding their positions”.
There are many morals and lessons to this story.
One is this: When a “Senior”, with a much broader perspective, more experience, and much more “intelligence” (information and data that you might not have access to), issues an order, FOLLOW IT.
NOT following the order because you are:
- Thinking that you are “saving your men” or “holding your positions” are good intentions
- Thinking that you are “protecting” what we have is a good motive
- Being afraid of “what bad things might happen”, thus thinking “it is better NOT to follow that order”, is a lofty and noble course to take
- Thinking “I know more than the person giving me the order. I, not HE, knows what is best”, is reasonable to assume at times, based on your viewpoint
But, none of them are actually ever valid. You ALWAYS follow orders, or AT LEAST inform the person giving you the order that you are not sure that you should follow it so he knows his order is NOT being executed!
The fact is, however, you should always follow orders as you can never get it “wrong” anyway. It is better to follow the orders given, even if they fail. Some WILL turn out “disastrous”. But, even so, when orders come from “inspiration”, those disasters, if they do occur, are “meant to be” for the greater good of all.
Historically however, when orders ARE followed, even when they “appear” to be foolish, when coming from “inspired and plugged in to the Ether” leaders, they DO work out with stunning success, the vast majority of the time.
“Master Strokes” of genius, my friend used to call them.
All great leaders are also great “followers” of orders that THEY receive. All great teachers are always great students. If you are a great student and a great loyal “follower”, who follows “orders”, you will be a great leader too, and enjoy GREAT success.
As a post script: Patton never had the commander he fired and demoted given a Court Martial. Patton always believed people learn from their mistakes. Patton once said, “Everything I know now that I am at the top, I learned when I was at the bottom.”
One learns BEST when they make an error themselves and have to deal with the consequences.
Later in the war, Patton was commanding the famous Third Army Group in Europe. When the Germans launched a massive counter attack (known as the Ardennes Offensive or The Battle of the Bulge), Patton was called on by HIS commander, General Eisenhower.
Eisenhower issued an URGENT order to all the Generals in the vicinity of the German counter attack. The Germans had surrounded the French city of Bastogne, and were headed to the port of Antwerp, cutting the Allied forces in half and destroying the entire Allied supply lines. The 101st Airborne Division was also trapped in Bastogne.
If the Germans took the city, the Germans actually could turn the tide of the war! This was a MAJOR emergency. The outcome of the war was at stake. The Germans COULD win the war if their offensive was not stopped, and stopped NOW!
Eisenhower ordered his Generals to immediately attack the Germans at Bastogne, save the 101st Airborne division, and stop the German advance to the port of Antwerp.
Every General including the legendary British Field Marshal Montgomery, said it was impossible to get their troops moved so far, so fast and get to Bastogne. It would take weeks or more to do such a maneuver. This was the winter. There were major snow storms. The men were already in battle. The troops were too spread out. They had no hot food, and very limited food at that. Supplies were extremely limited. There were no reinforcements. Excuse after excuse.
Following such an order, they all agreed, would cause massive casualties and would be a disaster. It was an impossible order to fulfill.
Patton, at that meeting with all the other Generals, without hesitation, said he WOULD follow the orders as given, and attack with 3 divisions within 48 hours!
Everyone in the room gasped! What Patton was saying was simply physically impossible to do.
Patton’s forces were already in a major attack to the east. His troops were farther from Bastogne than any of the other General’s troops, who were all much closer. Patton’s men had been fighting nonstop for weeks. They were tired and had been barely fed. They would have to come out of a major attack, turn 180 degrees, and go 100 miles in a snow storm, without hot food and no rest for days.
Impossible was the comment, even from Eisenhower. He assumed Patton would offer only some “support” to the attack weeks after one of the other Generals with troops much closer, took on the job.
Patton is quoted as saying “This is what we are paid to do sir, to follow orders and do the impossible. Actually, Sir, the word impossible literally is spelled I’m possible! I will follow your orders because that is what a good solder does, and attack with 3 divisions in 48 hours.”
Patton immediately issued the orders to his troops. Ironically, by fate or destiny, one of those 3 divisions that received the order to do this impossible task, had within its ranks the demoted ex commander that Patton had fired back in Sicily over a year earlier. Patton refused to issue the man a Court Martial, so he was still in active duty. That man was now a lower ranking tank officer.
Upon hearing these orders, that young demoted officer, took “actual” command of the entire Division, and IMMEDIATELY lead the troops north to Bastogne. He took his unit into Bastogne far ahead of the other troops. He was the FIRST to engage the enemy.
The Germans had the best, biggest tank on the battlefield, the feared King Tiger Tank. The Americans had a small highly inferior Sherman tank that was no match up against the Tiger. Yet, this tank officer, ATTACKED the Germans even though heavily outgunned.
His bold attack stunned the Germans and caught them off guard.
The Germans, not knowing how big this attack was, if the attack was by heavy artillery or small tanks, were pinned down and halted for almost 24 hours. Enough time for the rest of the Division to arrive and enter the battle…and annihilate the German forces.
This tank officer had personally stopped the German advance with his small tank unit! And…all his tanks were out of gas! He was a true hero.
After the war, he was given the Medal of Valor by General Patton personally, for his outstanding bravery. His heroic actions were instrumental in saving the entire 101st Airborne division, saving Bastogne and stopping the German advance.
Consider these things, and think of the many other “lessons” from this Patton story including: following orders; loyalty; trusting your leadership; giving people a second chance; firing people when necessary; taking control of a situation when necessary; learning from your mistakes; destiny and fate; and many more.
One might ask, “What if my ‘commander’ in life is in fact an IDIOT, and I KNOW his orders WILL ruin everything and be disastrous?”
Certainly this CAN be the case. But how do you KNOW for sure?
If you DO follow orders with complete loyalty, you will always be rewarded by the Universe (God)….in more ways than you could ever imagine! It can never go wrong anyway. In the long term and in the large scale scheme of things, everything will always work out for the greatest good of everyone.
Be FEARLESS. Have faith. Follow Orders.
One more important point. In life, unlike the military, YOU get to pick your mentor, your “GURU”, your leader, or your teacher.
So, if you do not 100% trust the person you are “following”, simply FIND SOMEONE ELSE TO FOLLOW.
Otherwise, DO follow orders, execute them fully with enthusiasm and confidence, and allow things to unfold as they will, even if it is not what YOU think is best. What appears to be “bad” today, will actually turn out to be the biggest blessing for you and all concerned, in the very near future. This happens when you “believe” in your leadership and yourself.