Dr. Fred Eichelman: What Is True Leadership?
D-Day week brings back many memories and I recall listening on the radio to the message given by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to soldiers, sailors and air men at the start of D-Day. I used to tell the story in my government classes about how Ike got picked to lead the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Europe.
At the start of World War Two Eisenhower had just been appointed to brigadier general after a career of various positions of leadership. The military at that time used a rank system based upon seniority which they may still do. If you had two four star generals for example the one who served the longest outranked the other. Ike was way down from the top of the list. Ike himself was considered lack luster compared to other officers with his rank and this image went back to when he was a cadet at West Point and led his class in demerits.
General George C. Marshall, chief of staff, was requested by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to come up with a plan for the invasion of Europe. A number of officers were asked to submit plans and the list ranged from Eisenhower up to General Douglas MacArthur who was number one and felt he deserved the job. Mac felt secure the job would be his.
Why was Eisenhower’s plan accepted and others rejected? We have no idea what were in all the competing plans, however, Ike stood out. He had a character trait that was superior to others, he knew how to get people to work together as equal team members which he felt was most important. MacArthur, it was felt, would argue constantly with Churchill and would have put DeGaulle in irons. If he were in charge he would be a dictator. The same with Patton who would not accept disagreement.
One of the first things Eisenhower did was to appoint British aides to American officers and American aides to British officers. He did the same with troops from other nations. He also issued an order that if an officer was angry and called someone an SOB, no problem. But if he called someone a British SOB or a French SOB or an American SOB he would be removed from command.
The rest of the story is history now. We won the war in Europe and Ike was considered responsible. A modest man he often said the credit belonged to all the members of the armed forces from the allied nations and not him. As historian John Long wrote, Eisenhower, unlike too many politicians today, was willing to admit mistakes. Something our president. Joe Biden, has apparently never learned. In addition to the famous message Eisenhower issued that morning he had prepared a second one in the event of failure and having to withdraw the troops. The message said that the decision to withdraw and failure was his and no one else. He would take the blame and responsibility. How rare that seems today.
Of course Ike would later become President of the United States and in my opinion he was one of the best. A true statesman. Something we could use today.
Now how did this example get used on students of mine? If an employer has a choice between two men for a job and the first was well educated to handle the position, but had a bad attitude and the second was not as qualified for the work, but had a good attitude it would usually be the second one who would get the job. Most employers have no problem training a person to have better work skills, but there is no training to be a team player, to get along with co-workers and not be a trouble maker.
I had an especially brilliant student with attitude problems who scoffed at that story. He claimed that “superior knowledge of business was the key to real success.” He went on to college and once out got a big job with a big firm. They got rid of him in less than three months. Sad when folks will not learn from history.