One of the most motivational speeches of all time is General Patton’s speech to the Third Army before D-day.
It isn’t a pretty speech.
It was meant for soldiers.
Hard men whose dirty business was to kill or be killed.
The effective way to talk to people is always in their own language.
So he started like this:
“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country.
You win a war by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
That got their attention.
This wasn’t going to be the usual list of corny, patriotic clichés.
In short order he got down to the actual business of surviving in simple, impactful, soldier’s language:
“I don’t give a fuck for a man who is not always on his toes.
There are four hundred neatly marked graves in Sicily, all because one man went to sleep on the job.
But they are German graves, because we caught the bastard asleep before his officer did.”
This turned the usual fear-based threat on its head.
War is simple: kill, or be killed.
And this is powerful grownup advice on how to survive and do just that.
He acknowledges that these men didn’t come here to be heroes.
They just want to get it all over with.
He acknowledges that and turns it on its head:
“Sure, we all want to go home.
And the shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo.
I don’t want any messages saying ‘I’m holding my position.’
We’re advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding anything except the enemy’s balls.
We’re not just going to shoot the bastards.
We’re going to rip out their living goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks.”
Finally, he accepts his reputation for driving the men beyond what’s reasonable to expect.
He turns that on its head also, to show how it will save their lives:
“There will be some complaints that we’re pushing our people too hard. I don’t give a damn about such complaints. I believe that an ounce of sweat will save a gallon of blood.The harder we push, the more Germans we kill.
The more Germans we kill, the fewer of our men will be killed. Pushing harder means fewer casualties.
I want you all to remember that.”
After that speech, Patton’s Third Army went through Europe like a whirlwind.
They destroyed nearly a thousand German tanks.
They killed over half a million enemy soldiers, and captured nearly a million more.
They built 2,500 bridges, captured 80,000 square miles of enemy held territory and liberated over a thousand cities and towns.
In an off-the-record interview, Patton explained to a journalist why he’d used the language he’d used.
“When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them dirty.
It may not sound nice to a bunch of little old ladies at a tea party, but it helps my soldiers remember it.
You can’t run an army without profanity, but it has to be eloquent profanity.
An army without profanity couldn’t fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag.”
What we can learn from Patton is in order to truly motivate people we need to talk to them in their own language.
Not in the language of the boardroom.
Not in the polite language we would prefer to use.
Whether we’re talking to schoolteachers, pole dancers, grandmas, construction workers, Oxbridge dons, children, or soldiers.
All communication, is about what’s heard, not what’s said.