Schofield’s Definition of Discipline
“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 to give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice 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. The 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 regard for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”
Major General John M. Schofield
Address to the Corps of Cadets, U.S. Military Academy
August 11, 1879
Major General John M. Schofield’s quote is required knowledge, and to be memorized and recited verbatim, among Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) students, Officer Candidate School (OCS) candidates, Cadets at West Point and at the United States Air Force Academy, and other military leadership institutions. I thought I would bring to you some background about General Schofield, and a little history about his quote on discipline. Ultimately, the purpose of this post is to use the quote as a backdrop to the topic of toxic leadership that we’ve been discussing here at Command Performance Leadership.
First, I will provide a biography of Major General John M. Schofield. For those of you who only know of his quote will be fascinated at his military experience and success. Then, I will put into context General Schofield’s definition of discipline.
John McAllister Schofield (September 29, 1831 – March 4, 1906) graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1853, ranking seventh in his class of 52 graduates, and was commissioned a brevet[i] second lieutenant in the artillery. Schofield served for two years in the artillery, was assistant professor of natural and experimental philosophy at West Point from 1855 to 1860, and while on leave (1860–1861) was professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.[ii]
When the Civil War broke out, Schofield became a major in the 1st Missouri Infantry, and served as chief-of-staff under Major General Nathaniel Lyon. During the Battle of Wilson’s Creek (Missouri), Schofield acted with “conspicuous gallantry” during the battle, and received the Medal of Honor for that action in 1892.[iii-a][iv-a][v]
On November 21, 1861, Schofield was promoted to Brigadier General, and placed in charge of all the Union militia in Missouri. He was again promoted to Major General on November 29, 1862, though the Senate did not confirm the appointment until May 12, 1863. From 1861 to 1863, he held various commands in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, most of the time in command of the Army of the Frontier.[iii-b][iv-b]
On April 17, 1863, he took command of the 3rd Division in the XIV Corps of the Army of the Cumberland in Tennessee, but returned to Missouri in May of 1863 to command the Department of the Missouri. In January of 1864, Schofield led the Army of the Ohio during the Atlanta Campaign under Major General William T. Sherman.[iii-c][iv-c]
After the fall of Atlanta, took the majority of his forces on his infamous “March to the Sea” through Georgia. Schofield’s Army of the Ohio was detached to join Major General George H. Thomas to stop the invasion of Tennessee led by Confederate General John B. Hood. On November 30, 1864, Hood managed to attack Schofield’s Army of the Ohio in the Battle of Franklin. Schofield successfully repulsed Hood, effectively crippled Hood’s army, and joined his forces with Thomas. Two weeks later, on December 15 and 16, during the Battle of Nashville, General Thomas used Schofield and his XXIII Corps to effectively destroy what was left of Hood’s army. For his service at Franklin, Schofield received a promotion to Brigadier General in the regular army on November 30, 1864.[iii-d][iv-d]
Schofield was ordered to operate under Sherman in North Carolina, and moved his corps by rail and sea to Fort Fisher, North Carolina. He captured Wilmington on February 22, 1865, and fought at the Battle of Kinston on March 10, before meeting up with Sherman on March 23 in Goldsboro. Working together with Sherman, Schofield led the Department of North Carolina until the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston at Durham Station. For his service, he was brevetted to Major General in the regular army.[iii-e][iv-e]
After the war, Schofield went on to become the Secretary of War under President Andrew Johnson; June 1868 to March 1869. In 1873, he was tasked by Secretary of War William Belknap to investigate the strategic potential of a United States presence in the Hawaiian Islands. Schofield’s report recommended that the United States establish a naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.[iii-f][iv-f]
From 1876 to 1881, Schofield was superintendent of the United States Military Academy. From 1888 until his retirement in 1895, Schofield was commanding general of the United States Army. He had become a major general on March 4, 1869, and on February 5, 1895, he was commissioned a lieutenant general. Schofield retired on September 29, 1895, upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 64.[iii-g]
Schofield’s Definition of Discipline
The foundations of leadership are taught in every military institution, from ROTC students, to OCS candidates and those who attend each of the service academies. The demonstration of moral and ethical attributes are essential for effective leadership as a commission officer in the United States military. Leaders of character are defined as one who “seeks to discover the truth, decides what is right, and demonstrates the courage to act accordingly – always.” Officers in the military are to epitomize humility, self-effacement, and selfless service. So, at the basic and academic level, before the bars are pinned onto a newly commissioned officer, candidates are taught the importance of equality, dignity and respect.[vi] Therefore, General Schofield’s quote encapsulates the philosophy to develop relationships that promote mutual respect and trust. So, there is good reason for an officer candidate to learn Schofield’s Definition of Discipline to the letter.
Schofield’s quote comes from a much longer address on the venerable vice of hazing, and the treatment of new cadets by their seniors in the Corps, that existed at West Point while he was Superintendent there between 1876 to 1881. Schofield said, “The practice of hazing is both injurious and humiliating to its victims and degrading to those who engage in it. Your constant associates after you leave the Academy must be the members of higher and lower classes. The memory of ill-treatment will remain with its victim as long as he lives. You can never be a ‘brother officer’ to him whom you once degraded. The stern discipline of a commanding officer will soon be forgotten when it can be remembered that he always treated his subordinates with justice and due respect. But wanton injustice and contumely can never be forgotten, except by a spirit too mean to feel its sting…The very foundation of civil society is mutual respect for individual rights. And nowhere is such mutual respect more strictly enjoined and rigidly enforced than in military organizations. Without it, tyranny on the one hand and disaffection and mutiny on the other must destroy the efficiency of an army…A veteran soldier sees but little difference between the different grades, from his own down to that of a junior cadet, and treats them all with nearly equal respect. It would be well for young soldiers to profit by such examples. The road to military honor will be guarded all the way by the hearts of those who may be your subordinates. You cannot travel that road unless you can command those hearts.”[vii]
The Army defines respect as treating people as they should be treated. It is the “Golden Rule” principle — do unto others as you would have them do to you. Attitudes about the worth of people, concepts, and personal belief systems are expressions of their values. Respect means recognizing and appreciating the inherent dignity and worth of all people. This concept goes well beyond issues of discrimination and harassment; respect includes the broader issue of civility, the way people treat each other. Respect involves being sensitive to diversity and the impact of one’s own behaviors on others — behaviors that others may perceive as being insensitive, offensive, or abusive. Ultimately, the Army fosters a commitment to ethical excellence essential to leaders of character for our military and our Nation.[viii]
Too often in the Army, leaders want unqualified loyalty. Schofield knew that such loyalty had to be earned. He knew that harsh treatment– the kind too frequently mistaken for authoritative expertise– comes at the expense of performance. He knew that hard-earned respect– the kind that comes from compassion, empathy, and a commander’s genuine interest in his subordinates– makes men reliable in battle.[ix] General [Schofield] was trying to tell us that we’d succeed in gaining the discipline necessary for any future overwhelming fight, if we treated our people with respect and in a manner and tone of voice appropriate for American warfighters.[x]
The foundation of discipline is not accountability or punishment, but respect. A leader must establish trust and credibility, communicate effectively, employ empathy, intimately know their people’s capabilities, and move their people into positions to be most successful. Nobody should be the ‘bad guy’ when leading people. No leader should be a bad guy intentionally, or go out of their way to be one. If a leader is working to perfect his ‘bad guy’ image, he is dishonoring his responsibility as a leader, and is creating a hostile environment for his followers. If a leader has successfully become a ‘bad guy,’ shame on them. Their subordinates deserve better than that; and, so does the service they represent and the Command (organization) they are responsible for.[xi] Ultimately, a good leader will lead through respect instead of leading through fear. When you treat people right, word gets around.
The poisoning results of harsh and tyrannical treatment can be detrimental to people, teams and organizations. A leader’s job, along with guiding individuals and groups towards victory and success, is to be a mentor. All eyes are on the leader; everyone looks up to them. However, the wrong tone of voice or form of ridicule, no matter how isolated or common, can have a negative impact on individuals and teams. The results of such toxic leadership can have destabilizing effects on command and control, as well as destroy esprit de corps.
Good leaders seek to develop and nurture relationships that lead to growth and fulfillment. They:
- Understand their needs and goals for relationships
- Are able to take the perspective of another in relationships
- Are able to transcend or step-out of their own self-interests to serve the good of the relationship
- Work to establish cooperative relationships so all benefit
- Seek relationships where they are respected and valued
- Respect and value others in relationships
- Seek healthy relationships that provide autonomy and support for growth
- Meet their responsibilities in relationships
- Treat others in relationships fairly and honestly
- Effectively communicate with others in relationships
- Build relationships based on trust
- Understand the impact of military service on relationships[xii]
General Schofield’s quote is not very long, but it certainly says a lot. For the Army, and any organization for that matter, to work properly there must be a bond between the leader and those being led; a bond that rests not on authority alone – but on professionalism, good will, and above all MUTUAL RESPECT. As I said earlier in this post, there is good reason for an officer candidate to learn Schofield’s Definition of Discipline to the letter. The knowledge and execution of its very meaning will serve officers well when they are in a position to lead people in the military and in life.
Copyright © Dale R. Wilson
Related Articles –
Schofield’s Definition of Discipline – West Point Association of Graduates – Gray Matter (westpointaog.org)
Bugle Notes: Learn This! (west-point.org)
Why You Should Treat Your People Like it’s 1879 (thoughtleadersllc.com)
Leadership and the Golden Rule (courageouslearning.wordpress.com)
Leadership as Influence (weareallleadersnow.wordpress.com)
Toxic Leadership (commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com)
Authoritarian Leadership vs. Democratic Leadership ~ The Officer Corps Explained (commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com)
(Hard) Lessons Learned About Leadership (commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com)
Respect for Others: A Bedrock of Leadership (digital-library.usma.edu)
[ii] “Civil War High Commands” by John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. p. 472-73.
[iv-a,b,c,d,e,f] “John M. Schofield” – Civil War Trust (Saving America’s Civil War Battlefields) – http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/john-schofield.html – Accessed 21 February 2012
[v] “Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas” by Benson Bobrick. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2009. p. 288, states “Much later, as secretary of war (1868-1869), he would award himself the Congressional Medal of Honor (actual award was in 1892) for Undocumented valor at Wilson’s Creek.”
[vi] “The Cadet Leader Development System (CLDS) – Moral Ethical Domain”- United States Military Academy Office of Policy, Planning, and Assessment – http://www.usma.edu/opa/clds/moral_ethical_domain.html – Accessed 22 February 2012 – United States Military Academy – http://www.usma.edu/
[vii] “Schofield’s Definition of Discipline” – West Point Association of Graduates – Gray Matter – Posted 4 November 2010 – http://www.westpointaog.org/page.aspx?pid=4329 – Accessed 19 February 2012 – http://www.westpointaog.org/
[viii] “Cadet Leader Development System” – USMA Circular: 1-101 (page 49) – 3 June 2002 – United States Military Academy – West Point, New York – http://www.dami.army.pentagon.mil/pub/dami-fl/Cr1-101.pdf – Accessed 21 February 2012 – Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2 (Army Intelligence) – http://www.dami.army.pentagon.mil/
[ix] “The Discipline Which Makes Men Reliable” – By Rich Stowell – Posted 29 March 2011 – http://my-public-affairs.blogspot.com/2011/03/discipline-which-makes-men-reliable.html – Accessed 21 February 2012 – My Public Affairs (A Teacher’s Education in the Army) – http://my-public-affairs.blogspot.com/
[x] “Year of Leadership: American-Made Discipline” – Commentary by Lt. Col. Mark Allen, 341st Operations Support Squadron – Posted 10/16/2008 ~ Updated 10/17/2008 – Malmstrom Air Force Base – News/Commentary – http://www.malmstrom.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123119911 – Accessed 21 February 2012 – Malmstrom Air Force Base – http://www.malmstrom.af.mil/
[xi] “(Hard) Lessons Learned About Leadership” – By Dale R. Wilson – Posted 01/24/2012 – https://commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/hard-lessons-learned-about-leadership/ – Accessed 23 February 2012 – Command Performance Leadership – https://commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com/
[xii] “The Cadet Leader Development System (CLDS) – Human Spirit Domain”- United States Military Academy Office of Policy, Planning, and Assessment – http://www.usma.edu/opa/clds/domain_of_the_human_spirit.html – Accessed 22 February 2012 – United States Military Academy – http://www.usma.edu/
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