General George Patton was a brilliant military strategist whose words are applicable today in business just as they were on the battlefield more than 60 years ago. Business can be much tougher these days than it was in the past. It is not merely enough to have the best products anymore. In the 21st century, a competitor can rise to the top in a matter of months or even weeks. We used to be able to see our competition gaining on us.
Today, using social business media and innovative technology, a relative unknown can begin taking market share from established leaders almost overnight. The same is true for our business customers, who rely on us to identify new trends and opportunities long before they become mainstream in their marketplace.
Here are some quotes from Gen. Patton that I think apply to our business on an almost daily basis.
* “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.”
Staff your executive committee and management teams with innovative thinkers. I've spent time listening to executives telling me what is impossible and what we can't do. The executives who flourish and prosper are those that introduce the possible, and they do that while including proper strategy and planning.
* “Nobody ever defended anything successfully; there is only attack, and attack and attack some more.”
The defensive position leaves little time to create new paths for opportunities. Instead of measuring ourselves against our competitors, we should be leading. Defenders tend to tire easily and lose confidence. Patton once said, “Never let the enemy pick the battle site.” If your strategy is clear and easily implemented, you will never have a need to meet your competitors on their terms.
* “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
Communication is key to any strategy. Your staff must be able to understand the goals as well as short- and long-term results necessary for achieving success. Speak plainly, confidently, without hesitation and with total honesty. Then insist on follow-through from your executive team on down. Any pause or vacillation causes cracks of uncertainty and can lead some to question its viability.
* “Always do everything you ask of those you command.”
Command is the wrong word here, but the premise is the same. Commitment, follow-through, ongoing staff communications, extraordinary service to employees and to customers, as well as an intense focus on the markets we serve are crucial. Not only do I expect this of my staff, I expect it from myself.
Much of my workday is spent performing these functions, speaking directly to our employees and our advertisers, meeting them personally to discuss market trends and communicating to our entire employee base regularly. Serving as an example is the strongest motivator. Words are empty without actions backing them up.
* “Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.”
We recently introduced Cygnus Business Media's tagline “Because the world is changing very fast.” It is not just part of our logo, it is a reminder to all our employees and the customers we serve in the marketplace that the comfortable pace of change that once defined business is gone. Technology is setting the tempo. We must respond to the beat with calculation and control.
Gen. Patton's words offer insight into the human condition and what drives us, but I want to be clear that I am not equating my work with his. Many years ago, I referred to a colleague as “someone I would be willing to go to war with,” which quickly earned a retort from my boss, a retired Navy SEAL, who had seen combat.
It bothered him that 99% of the people who use that phrase in business have never been in a war. He was absolutely right, and I am more conscious not to suggest that business is a life-and-death endeavor like war.
Nonetheless, there's value in considering Gen. Patton's influence on his troops and how he earned the trust necessary for each person under his command to successfully and willingly carry out his instructions.
John French is CEO of Cygnus Business Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.