Dwight Eisenhower (“Ike”) was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. He was also a 5-star general in the US Army during WWII and served in the prestigious role of Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in “Operation Overlord” – the allied invasion of Germany.
I recently picked up a biography on him (by the same author of FDR – Jean Edward Smith) because I’m always interested in reading about great leaders in history; particularly military leaders (a wee fetish of mine). I found this to be a great read. It wasn’t anything like what I was expecting. He was a unique individual and one that all leaders can learn something from – even those of us who are ministers of the gospel. When I finished it I decided to jot down some of his key leadership qualities. Here they are:
- Delegation. Ike didn’t do anything that he thought someone else could do.
- Efficiency. Ike was a stickler for getting tasks done quickly and efficiently. Any correspondence he did not need to answer personally he gave to other staff to handle. He did this at the beginning of each day.
- Executive ability. Ike’s capacity to delegate while assuming ultimate responsibility was exceptional. Omar Bradley said the Ike did not know how to manage a battle-field but was uniquely gifted as a commander. Montgomery agreed. He would not class Eisenhower as a great soldier, but he was a great Supreme Commander. Smith writes, “No other officer, British or American, could have dealt so effectively with both Washington and London, while keeping head-strong subordinates under him working in harmony.”
- Diplomacy. Near the end of WWII the allies combined all their men and resources for “Operation Overlord,” the allied invasion of Europe. They needed one man to head it up. It came down to two key individuals: General Marshall and Eisenhower. President Roosevelt chose Eisenhower because of his strengths in diplomacy. He was the only one who could work successfully with Winston Churchill.
- Peacemaker. This may sound surprising – one of America’s top Generals a peacemaker. Yet he was exactly that. It was Eisenhower, when he was President of the United States, who shortened the Korean war (and thereby averting WWIII). It was Eisenhower who worked hard to avert war in Vietnam, and it was Eisenhower who opposed the allied intent to take military action against Colonel Abdel Nasser of Egypt during the Suez standoff.
- Friendliness. Ike knew his rank. But he maintained a wonderful warm heartedness toward his fellow-man. He became known for his beaming smile (you will see it in many of his photographs). People who smile, and smile genuinely, are often approachable and friendly. This is a vital quality of a good leader.
- Courage. Ike was one of the few Generals of his era who did not see action. That wasn’t his choice; he desperately wanted to be on the front line from the first day he enlisted. But through circumstances out of his control he never got there. However, Ike was fearlessly courageous on the world scene and the political frontline. He did not hesitate to confront or question the most intimidating men. And this sometimes takes more guts than facing the barrel of a gun.
- Rest and refreshment. High output A-type individuals have a tendency to push hard and long and then collapse (or worse, burnout). Eisenhower knew how to pace himself by taking time out each day. He loved his golf. He wasn’t the best golfer to occupy the White House. That distinction goes to John F. Kennedy. But he was clearly the most dedicated. Golf was necessary for his mental health as well as a good night’s sleep. “Without golf,” said Major Howard Snyder, “he’d be like a caged lion, with all those tensions building up inside him. If this fellow couldn’t play golf, I’d have a nut case on my hands.”
Did he have any weaknesses? Yes, there were a few. I’ll name a couple of them: he neglected his wife, and it almost cost him his marriage. And he failed to recognize he had blind-spots. Every leader has his blind-spots – areas that he is weak in that he can’t see. On at least two occasions Ike took personal charge of military battles where he lacked experience and where others (such at General Paton) would do far better. This cost men’s lives. He later learned from this mistake.
All in all Eisenhower stands in history as a skilful, courageous and decisive leader from whom much can be learned today.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed”