The grease to make the wheels turn better

In the closing days of World War II, General Patton's motorcade was heading down a raised dirt road, not much more than a berm really, on his way to a military parade. He was festooned in his full dress uniform with all his metals and ribbons—quite a site to see. (If you saw the opening of the movie Patton, with George C Scott, you have the right picture in mind.)

Back to the story. Patton’s motorcade was stopped by a tank half in the ditch and half on the road. The driver of the tank was trying, without much success, to get the tank out of the ditch. Patton ordered his car to stop and stepped out to see what the problem was. The air was filled with the smell and black smoke of the diesel engined tank, dirt sprayed up on the road into a pile where the tank tracks had done an efficient job of moving dirt and nothing more. Hearing the soldier’s dilemma he instructed the driver to get out of the vehicle, the staff was shocked, jaws gaping widely, as General Patton climbed into the dirty, diesel smelling tank to see what he could do to help.

A few tense minutes ticked by as soldier and general staff wondered what the General was doing in the tank. The silence was broken when the tank motor gave a load, strained roar--the engines tachometer racing into the red zone-- and then, in the blink of an eye, the General popped the clutch and the tank leapt out of the ditch and came to rest in the middle of the road--the motor purring quietly.

The soldier, forgetting who he was talking to, yelled out a colorfully worded compliment to Patton. The General smiled and asked, “Do you see how its done?” Proudly nodding his head in affirmation he climbed onto the tank. But he was not quick enough because before he could get a firm grip the tank was thrown into reverse, dumped the soldier on the side of the road, and placed right back into the ditch. Dusting himself off, the soldier looked up as Patton passed by, adjusting his uniform,saying, “Good, now you do it”. The motorcade went on its way and the driver to this day probably still tells the story about when the Tank General gave the tank driver his best driving lesson.

I have always enjoyed this story because it reminds me that the best leadership is leadership by doing, leadership by example, and not by show or posing. Our government and corporate leaders would do well to follow Patton’s example and get into the ditches with those doing the work and lend a hand.