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A Belbin Team Role Case Study: General George S Patton as a "Shaper".

Team Role Case Study: SHAPER - General George S Patton

Patton is a classic example of the overt dynamism, drive and competitive energy that can accompany a strong example of a Shaper in the Belbin Team Role Model.

Like all people, Shaper would certainly not be his only Team Role preference (people have subtle blends of Role preferences that help define their operating styles), but students of military history would agree, this man was no doubt a strong Shaper.

His career highlights and failures paint a picture of a strong Shaper type in action. He was an outstanding combat leader in WW2, and able to drive a team to victory, but was often lacking in the tact and diplomacy that would have assisted him in more strategic environments, particularly in the late war years.

"Patton's colorful image, hard-driving personality and success as a commander were at times overshadowed by his controversial public statements regarding the Soviet Union which were out of accord with American foreign policy. But his philosophy of leading from the front and his ability to inspire his troops with vulgarity-ridden speeches, such as a famous address to the Third Army, attracted favorable attention. His strong emphasis on rapid and aggressive offensive action proved effective. While Allied leaders held sharply differing opinions on Patton, he was regarded highly by his opponents in the German High Command." 1

Contributions made by his Shaper behaviours:

Patton was typically a strong Shaper in his drive to take command, impose direction on team activities and to openly challenge any forms of ineffectiveness, defeatism and complacency at all levels.

He had a dynamic, outgoing and competitive energy that he channeled into getting his units to train for and then ultimately attain the most difficult of military objectives (e.g. driving his Army through a long forced march in the dead of winter to relieve US Airborne forces at Bastogne and help decide the outcome of the Battle of The Bulge).

He was renowned for being decisive, pushing his teams to excel and was also not afraid to take difficult decisions and to take risks.

Allowable Weaknesses arising from his Belbin Shaper behaviours:

As with all strong Shapers, Patton was easily provoked when in “mission focus mode” and often displayed a blunt and aggressive manner with peers, subordinates and even his superiors at times.

He was also outspoken and impatient with the slower and more cautious deliberations being made by the higher echelons of command (e.g. Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley).

Non-Allowable Weaknesses from his Belbin Shaper behaviours:

At his worst Patton could simply ‘steamroller” across the reasoned objections of others to relentlessly push his own agendas, tactics and sense of urgency (or simply just ask too much of exhausted units and commanders).

He could also take substantial risks with his units for the sake of speed, or to outrun his rivals in a competitive rather than collaborative spirit. This was evident when he and Field Marshall Montgomery engaged in some unhealthy rivalry in the midst of a bloody Italian campaign to take the town of Palermo first.

As strong Shapers can sometimes do, he also engaged in quite destructive competition with other Shapers, Co-ordinators and also Monitor Evaluators (e.g. intense rivalry with British Field Marshall Montgomery, and his attempts to override General Omar Bradley when he was subordinate to him).

Another example of his lack of tact in some circumstances was his lack of diplomacy when dealing with his Russian and even his British counterparts at war’s end, which resulted in him being sidelined in place of generals who could operate with greater discretion.

"Eisenhower stated that his lack of tact was a flaw which limited his leadership potential, in spite of his many accomplishments." 2

Leadership Style evident from his Belbin Shaper behaviours:

His leadership style was characterized by a competitive determination to win. He also had a dynamic and outgoing command presence that he sued to get the most from himself and his team under difficult circumstances.

He provided leadership, drive and the spirit to overcome obstacles at a time when it was most needed in a combative, competitive and time sensitive environment (where Shapers can be very useful indeed).

On the other hand, his inability to adopt a more consultative “Co-ordinator” style when required (although as an effective delegator, he does appear to have had it to tap) would often lead him into trouble, and to assume more authority than was due to him. Some Shapers find it tough to pause and revert to their Co-ordinator style (where both Roles exist) in the heat of the moment , even though it may help achieve better outcomes.

"He garnered a reputation as a general who was both impatient and impulsive and had little tolerance for officers who had failed to succeed." 3

He could alienate his peers and spark destructive internal rivalry and conflict. Shapers need to be careful of their tendency towards impatience and intensity when more tact may be required in less dynamic forums.

Useful lessons for Shapers:

Timing the application your “Shaper energies” is of the utmost importance in belbin Team Role theory.

Patton’s strong Shaper behaviours proved of immense use in some circumstances, but got him into hot water in others.

Things of use to the team:

Help the team to establish clear objectives and then maintain focus upon them.

Direct influence on keeping team discussions and actions on track.

Keep the team honest about whether it’s on track to achieve the objective and having the difficult conversations when required.

Intervening when the team is off track, and providing drive when the team requires extra motivation.

Potential problems:

When in a position of seniority try to avoid simply “steamrolling” over others.

Beware of assuming more authority than is warranted in your current position.

Avoid non-essential clashes and competition with other Shapers, Co-ordinators, Monitor Evaluators and Plants.

Try not to lose the sense of humour or awareness that sometimes fences may need to be mended with those with more sensitive styles.

Shapers can provide a very useful sense of direction and urgency in a leaderless environment, time of crisis or in the formative stages of a time critical project.

Cultivating the discipline to use a little more subtlety in place of intensity at times can be helpful.

When in a formal leadership role, working to understand the subtler, but also commanding role that a Co-ordinator can play within a team, and trying to adopt some of the more consultative approaches of the ‘CO’ may be useful also.

This of course takes a degree of self-awareness and discipline to achieve.

Like all of the Belbin Team Roles, timing and crafting awareness of how to use your strengths is of paramount importance.

Works cited:

1. D'Este, Carlo (1995), Patton: A Genius for War, New York City, New York: Harper Collins, ISBN 0-06-016455-7

2. Blumenson, Martin (1974), The Patton Papers: 1940–1945, Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin,ISBN 0-395-18498-3

3. D'Este, Carlo (1995), Patton: A Genius for War, New York City, New York: Harper Collins, ISBN 0-06-016455-7

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