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Studies in Leadership: Dwight Eisenhower

Posted by admin April - 21 - 2021 - Wednesday

I just finished a trilogy on World War 11 by Jeff Shaara. If you like military history from the viewpoint of the soldiers themselves, you will enjoy Shaara’s approach to writing. Obviously, one of the main characters in any book on WW 11 would be the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. His leadership characteristics were not as apparent as some noted military or political leaders. In fact, one source that I sought out described Eisenhower’s style of leadership as being “hidden qualities.” Eisenhower was an exceptional adminstrator. He never commanded troops in battle. Instead, he organized and coordinated (managed, if you would) armies of 4 nations, their navies and their air forces. Plus, Ike had to deal with some very temperamental and egotistical commanders. If you’ve ever had an assistant coach who was, as my dad used to say, “too big for his britches!”, you need to read more about how Eisenhower dealt with that issue.

Perhaps, Ike’s strongest leadership characteristic was his ability to delegate. One source said that “Eisenhower perfected the art of delegation.” By delegating, the Supreme Commander was able to focus on the “big ticket items” that over-arched the entire Allied war effort. However, he expected all decisions by his subordinates to be run by him. Ike always had the “last word” and made the final decision.

Eisenhower exemplified the characteristic of perseverance. Here was an Army officer who, early in his career, was going nowhere fast. He was assigned office/administrative duties at whatever duty station he found himself. He longed for the opportunity to truly lead. When WW 11 broke out, the USA held back. When we finally entered the war, Ike had his chance. Yet, his selection as the Supreme Commander met with some “raised eyebrows.” But President Roosevelt and General of the Army, George Marshall knew that Ike had the makings of a great leader. Why? The main reason was: Ike wasn’t a quitter. Too often, I see young coaches who have not had to wait to get the chance to be a head coach, get easily frustrated when they don’t immediately succeed. After just a couple of years, they resign. Perseverance builds faith— in God and in yourself! It is a key component in any successful leader’s character.

Eisenhower was a “team player” and he looked for team players in his commanders. Patton and Montgomery were excellent battlefield commanders who had the respect of the troops under their command. But, their personalities drove Eisenhower crazy. It took up a lot of his time and energy keeping those two “reined in.” Ike detested showboats. When hiring assistant coaches, be sure to gauge how big their ego is before deciding that this is someone with whom you can work. The adage I lived by when I was a head coach was “BIG TEAM… little me!”

When Ike was President, some media pundits criticized him for “playing too much golf.” He even had a practice hole and green built on the White House grounds. Ike knew the importance of rest. No one can continue to function at peak efficiency unless he makes the time to rest and rejuvenate. God makes it pretty clear in the Bible that we need a day of rest. Heck… even God took the “7th day off!”

Finally, the characteristic that Eisenhower possessed that impressed me the most was that he was careful to give credit to others… while taking the blame on himself— even when underserved. If you don’t know the story, Ike had a press release already prepared if the D Day invasion of France failed. In the note, Ike took full responsibility for the failure! Fortunately, he did not have to release that message on June 6, 1944.

There are all kinds of successful leaders. Ike, in a sense, broke the mold. He did not possess the charisma that many great leaders possess. Ike did, however, possess a high level of organizational skills. He used these skills to administrate a huge fighting force. Be sure you are organized. Put others above yourself. Finally, be willing to delegate certain duties to your assistant coaches. You don’t have to do it all by yourself!

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