Amy Sadeghzadeh, Director – Military, Government & Intelligence Agencies Practice, The Arbinger Institute, USNA Class of 2002
LTC Wendell Stevens, USA (Ret.),USMA Class of 1989
“Schofield’s Definition of Discipline” is one of the most revered and well-known statements on military leadership. Taught for decades at both the United States Military Academy (USMA) and United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), it is a central concept in the Army’s training of new soldiers. The statement comes from a speech delivered by Major General John M. Schofield, the Superintendent of USMA, on August 11, 1879:
“The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling, but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. One mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself. He who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect towards others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”
After the Civil War, a serious hazing problem plagued West Point. Senior cadets frequently used hazing as means to instill discipline in new cadets, but the mistreatment was often brutal, humiliating, and counterproductive. Having experienced the military both as a cadet and as an Army leader in war and peace, Schofield deeply understood the basic flaw which senior cadets failed to understand concerning discipline. Discipline comes from a reaction to something far deeper than outward behaviors–especially the misguided use of hazing. Real discipline responds to the “spirit in the breast of the commander.”
What is that spirit? In Arbinger terms, we describe it as a leader’s “way of being”. It is how I choose to see others around me. I see them either as people who count like me or as objects to manipulate or ignore. This spirit, or way of being, is a choice with consequences. If I choose to see others as people instead of objects, and hence manifest a spirit of respect toward those I lead, I inspire or invite responsiveness and respect from them. If I choose to see others as objects, and manifest a spirit of disrespect, I excite strong resistance to my leadership, despite the appearance of compliance.
Schofield helps us see how this way of being drives behaviors in the leader. He saw that when a cadet chose a spirit of respect or disrespect, his manner and tone automatically followed suit. The senior cadets, who had little respect for the new cadets, relied on the tyranny of hazing to instruct their juniors. Far better, however, is the leader who garners respect for others by keeping the goals of the organization in mind and recognizing that the junior cadets count the same as he does in the success of that goal. Their inevitable contribution can be as valuable as another’s, despite military rank. This self-aware leader will speak and act in a manner that strengthens the subordinate, the unit and the overall mission because his way of being comes from a place of responsiveness. This awareness provokes an “others-mindedness” that benefits the whole.
This “spirit” Schofield refers to is agile and alive. In a responsive way of being, we are open, yielding and present in the moment, whether we are working with people or trying to solve problems. We let the influence of others guide how we see and treat them. We have the freedom and courage to be self-critical and thus adaptive. We become the leaders that Schofield envisioned; poised for success on the battlefield and in the ever-changing landscape of the marketplace.