Eisenhower Leadership Lessons: First Step to Build a Nazi Defeating Vision & Strategy a Lesson for Today’s Business Leaders

In August of 2010 my wife and I spent 3 days touring the hallowed grounds of the Civil War Battlefields at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. At the end of our time there we spent about 2-hours fulfilling another one of our joint hobbies, visiting the homes of former United States Presidents.

The 34th U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower purchased his first and only private home at Gettysburg after finishing his second term in 1960. After the tour I purchased Eisenhower’s memoir of his efforts leading the Allied Crusade in Europe to defeat the Hitler and the Nazi’s.

Eleven months later, this past July, I decided to take the book on our summer vacation as one of the tomes I would spend the week reading while laying on the beach listening to the waves crashing into the south Jersey shore.

My wife was concerned that because it was written by a lifelong military man it would be a difficult, dry, technical book to read. In contrast to her concerns it turned into 478 pages of lessons in leadership.

In this blog series over the next weeks and months I will be sharing some of his quotes that serve as lessons on the leadership that helped keep the western world free from tyranny.

Because it is where every organizational leader must begin I think its appropriate to start with a lesson on Vision and Strategy.

As you know from following me the last few years, my leadership models have Vision and Strategy at the top (these include the CHAMP Leadership Traits, the 6 Critical Skills for Confident Leadership, and my 3 Strategies of Champion Organizations. You can learn more about each at their respective links).

Despite having studied World War I and World War II extensively in high school and college (albeit more than 30 years ago), I was amazed to be reminded that because of the United States’ serious post World War I isolationist period and the depression of the 1930s, it was grossly ill-prepared to not just fight an offensive war half-way around the world, but was grossly ill-prepared to just defend itself inside its own borders (as the Empire of Japan exposed with the attack on Pearl Harbor).

How ill-prepared?

According to Eisenhower “in 1939, with the Nazi’s poised to attack Poland with 60 infantry divisions (approximately 600,000 soldiers), 14 mechanized and motor divisions, 4000 airplanes along with thousands of tanks and armored cars, the Poles could mobilize less than one-third of that military strength” to defend itself.

Yet, despite Poland’s inadequacy it “far surpassed the United States Army in numbers of men and pieces of equipment.” Additionally, not only were the American numbers inadequate, the actual equipment itself was World War I vintage and technology.

It was with that realization that Eisenhower was handed the role of leading America’s contribution to England’s effort to defeat the Nazi’s.

In that state, as Eisenhower was on the verge of being named the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, he began to set the Vision and Strategy for the Allies:

“…we had to do the best we could, with almost nothing to distribute but deficits, in stemming the onslaughts of our enemies, but plans for victory had to look far ahead to the day when the airplanes, the battle fleets, the shipping, the landing craft and the fighting formations would allow us to pass to the offensive to maintain it.

“It was in this realm of the future-a future so uncertain as to be one almost of make-believe-that the projected plan for European invasion had to take its initial form.”

When I read that statement on page 29 I knew the next 459 pages were going to be a treat.

Few business leaders are faced with a challenge as dire as Eisenhower’s in 1939. He had only one direction, moving forward to create a vision and strategy to save the western world from the threat of Nazi domination.

And, maybe that’s the problem?

The economic uncertainty the past three years has certainly come close to that for many businesses and their respective leaders. Yet, I don’t believe I have seen much creativity in the development of company visions and strategies to inspire their soldiers to win their own metaphorical wars.

What if, just for a moment, you imagined your business future challenge to be “so uncertain as to be one almost of make-believe,” how creative could you be in crafting a vision and strategy that would be as effective as the one Eisenhower and his Allied Forces’ partners launched and successfully implemented between 1942 and May of 1945.

What might that look like for your organization?

Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts below.

’til next time, make it a great week!