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Dwight D Eisenhower: General and President

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. He also served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War II and was responsible for the 1944-45 invasion of France and Germany from the Western Front. His name is never far from the top of any “Greatest U.S. Presidents” list and he has been voted Gallup’s “Most Admired Man” on twelve occasions, so what led him to say, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”?

Operation Overlord

On June 6th, 1944, a day now known as D-Day, Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the massive invasion over the English Channel into Normandy. He knew that casualties would be high, but he also knew that he had done everything possible to prepare his men for the challenges ahead, and he knew that to them he was not a faceless commander issuing orders from an ivory tower, he was one of them.

On the morning of the invasion, each soldier, sailor and airman about to go into battle was given a letter composed by Eisenhower the night before. In it, he inspired and motivated these men to fight bravely with the words: “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you…” He knew that once the order to begin Operation Overlord was given, there was nothing more he could do and the success of the mission depended on the bravery of his men and their motivation to do what had to be done – because they wanted to.

Leadership Qualities

In a speech given to Royal British Military Academy cadets on their graduation in 1944, Eisenhower said, “You must know every single one of your men. It is not enough that you are the best soldier in that unit, that you are the strongest, the toughest, the most durable, the best equipped, technically—you must be their leader, their father, their mentor, even if you’re half their age. You must understand their problems. You must keep them out of trouble; if they get in trouble, you must be the one who goes to their rescue. That cultivation of human understanding between you and your men is the one part that you must yet master, and you must master it quickly.

These words demonstrate his personal leadership qualities and his firm belief that leadership lies in never seeing those you lead as numbers, but as individuals with hopes, dreams and aspirations of their own. During his military years, Eisenhower got to know what motivated each of the men under his command and he used that motivation to inspire them to give their best in every task they faced.

Trusted Leader

As Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, Eisenhower’s men trusted him to make carefully considered decisions. They knew that he would not send them into battle without thinking long and hard about the potential outcomes, and they knew that any decision to do so was one of necessity and not made lightly. He gained this trust by being among his men and getting to know them, becoming a motivational father figure to them all.  

In the days and hours before D-Day, Eisenhower visited as many soldiers, sailors and airmen as was physically possible. He strongly believed that he should not be a faceless commander and he made it a priority to personally meet and speak to the men he would be sending into battle. He shook hands with them, asking them to break ranks and gather around him so he could talk to them as individuals. He motivated and inspired them, asking them to tell him about their homes and their families, and he encouraged them to be fearless in the face of danger by giving them the why of the orders they’d be given, creating “a deep-seated conviction in every individual’s mind that he is fighting for a cause worthy of any sacrifice he may make.”

Getting Things Done

The same self-confident and genuine leadership qualities that inspired his troops inspired an entire nation and Eisenhower became the 34th President of the United States in 1953. As a soldier and a president, he knew that the best way to get things done and to inspire others to give their best was to believe in them.

What have you done to inspire your “troops” lately?