The Problem with Indiscipline

The General Savage walked into an undertrained organization. The report was that the group had lost their will to fight. Will is described as having an inner drive that keeps you going when exhausted, hungry, afraid, and cold (Shinseki, 2004). In light of the morale problem, the lack of discipline grew at an alarming rate. The culture of indiscipline; the men not saluting, soldiers out of uniform, and the officers drinking habits set up the military for failure.

The General began to clean house; he had little choice to do otherwise. One scene that sets the tone for the General’s house cleaning is his encounter with Colonel Gately. Gately walks into his office; the General does not salute him, he looks to the Military Police who escorted the Colonel and salutes them. He addresses Gately by simply saying, “You are yellow and a traitor. I hate a man like you so much that I am going to get your head down in the mud and trample on it. I going to make you wish you have never been born (Zanuck, 1949). His judgment was quick and decisive. General Omar Bradley said Good judgment is the ability to size up a situation quickly, determine what is important, and decide what needs to be done (Shinseki, 2004). He realized that the reason his new group had hard luck was because the group felt sorry for themselves. The General made enemies of all his officers by the changes he made. The challenge was to reestablish confidence.

The Value of Confidence

The Encarta Dictionary defines confidence as the belief in own abilities, faith in somebody to do right, and a trusting relationship. Without the confidence of subordinates, leadership is almost impossible. Shinseki says that motivation grows out of people’s confidence in themselves, their unit and their leaders (Shinseki, 2004, p.53). As the film progresses one sees the wisdom of creating the “leper” group of unwanted personnel with Colonel Gately in command. Leadership opportunities should be offered to all would-be leaders early in their careers because they build drive, trigger a can-do spirit, and inspire self-confidence (Bennis, 2003, p.177). Apparently this even holds true with less than desirable personnel. Rather than trying to gain affection, General Savage worked on obtaining the confidence of his group.

Once the General gained the confidence of his men, instead of claiming a victory, he immediately went to the task of establishing new leadership. Others began to lead the fight. The group came together; from the cooks to the ground crew to the pilots, they became a community.

Community is defined as a social group of organisms sharing an environment, normally with shared interests. Community was once a seamless web of family, fellow villagers, land, religion, occupation, rights, and duties (Gardner, 1993, p.112). Community was characterized by coherence, continuity and commitment. As Savage reestablished unity, stability, and loyalty confidence grew. An increase in Confidence often gives individuals the needed push to take calculated risks.

Once confidence was gained by both the group and the General, each had the resources needed to trust each other relationally. The General began to show that he cared for his men. Caring does not mean coddling people or making training easy or comfortable. In fact, that kind of training can get a soldier killed (Shinseki, 2004, p. 48). His subordinates were more than just numbers. Confidence gave the General the way to group loyalty. The three components of leadership are who you are inside, what you know, and how you act (Shinseki, 2004, p.8). General Savage proved what he was made of, his knowledge of war, and his genuine concern for his men.

The Value of Leadership

In this film leadership is the problem. In any organization leadership is always the issue. The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head, but the tone of the body (Shinseki, 2004, p.45). The leader leads people mentally, emotinaly, and physically. Leaders take care of their people.

General Savage’s last crucial order happened when he became incapacitated; he gave the Command to Colonel Gately. Gately, the man General Savage once said that he hated and considered yellow, had gained the General’s confidence and the confidence of those he lead. The ultimate test for a leader is whether he or she teaches others to be leaders and build organizations when he or she is not around (Tichy, 2005).


Ironically or perhaps naturally, the issue that Colonel Keith Davenport was relieved of his command-over-identification with subordinates - began to affect General Frank Savage. Gardner reminds us that many will burn out, or lose their sense of direction (Gardner, 1990). The old man, the commanding General reminded Savage of the natural tendency to try to hold up one’s men. He encouraged Savage to evaluate himself. The importance of personal evaluation can not be understated. As the film came to and end, it became apparent that General Frank Savage suffered from over-identification with subordinates. General Savage needed the same help Colonel Davenport received.

The film clearly emphasizes the importance of teamwork, captures the essence of the problems associated with indiscipline, and underlines the value of organizational confidence. However, the finest detail of leadership and the accomplishment of the mission for the sake of the team are captured when in the last scene Colonel Keith Davenport took off General Frank Savage’s boots.


Shinseki, Eric. Be Know Do. 2004

Zanuck, Darryl F. 12 o'clock High. 1949