Greatest leadership example in history? Eisenhower’s astonishing D-Day plan B, “Blame . . . is mine alone”

June 6, 2018

It is a model of leadership, an example more leaders should follow — though too few do. It’s one more example of the high caliber leadership Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated throughout his life. In its imperfections, handwritten, it should take your breath away.  Eisenhower was a leader down to the bone.

So again, today, on the 74th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, we remember.

Eisenhower's unused statement on the failure of D-Day

Eisenhower’s contingency statement, in case D-Day failed – image from the National Archives

This quote actually isn’t a quote. It was never said by the man who wrote it down to say it. It carries a powerful lesson because of what it is.

In preparing for the D-Day invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower carefully contemplated what would happen if the invasion failed.  What if the Germans repulsed the Allies, and no foothold was established to re-take the main body of Europe from the Germans?

Ike’s answer is a model of leadership:  He would take the blame.  Regardless what happened, Ike took full responsibility for the failure, giving credit to the soldiers who would have sacrificed in vain, perhaps their lives.

The Bathtub recently posted Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s “order of the day” to the troops about to conduct the Allied invasion of Normandy — D-Day — to establish the toehold in Europe the Allies needed to march to Berlin, and to end World War II in Europe. As a charge to the troops, it was okay — Eisenhower-style words, not Churchill-style, but effective enough. One measure of its effectiveness was the success of the invasion, which established the toe-hold from which the assaults on the Third Reich were made.

eisenhower-with-paratrooper-eve-of-d-day.jpg

Photo shows Eisenhower meeting with troops of the 101st Airborne Division, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, on the eve of the invasion. It was these men whose courage he lauded.

When Eisenhower wrote his words of encouragement to the troops, and especially after he visited with some of the troops, he worried about the success of the operation. It was a great gamble. Many of the things the Allies needed to go right — like weather — had gone wrong. Victory was not assured. Defeat strode the beaches of Normandy waiting to drive the Allies back into the water, to die.

Eisenhower wrote a second statement, a shorter one. This one was directed to the world. It assumed the assault had failed. In a few short sentences, Eisenhower commended the courage and commitment of the troops who, he wrote, had done all they could. The invasion was a chance, a good chance based on the best intelligence the Allies had, Eisenhower wrote. But it had failed.

The failure, Eisenhower wrote, was not the fault of the troops, but was entirely Eisenhower’s.

He didn’t blame the weather, though he could have. He didn’t blame fatigue of the troops, though they were tired, some simply from drilling, many from war. He didn’t blame the superior field position of the Germans, though the Germans clearly had the upper hand. He didn’t blame the almost-bizarre attempts to use technology that look almost clownish in retrospect — the gliders that carried troops behind the lines, sometimes too far, sometimes killing the pilots when the gliders’ cargo shifted on landing;  the flotation devices that were supposed to float tanks to the beaches to provide cover for the troops (but which failed, drowning the tank crews and leaving the foot soldiers on their own); the bombing of the forts and pillboxes on the beaches, which failed because the bombers could not see their targets through the clouds.

There may have been a plan B, but in the event of failure, Eisenhower was prepared to establish who was accountable, whose head should roll if anyone’s should.

Eisenhower took full responsibility.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troop, the air [force] and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.

Who in the U.S. command would write such a thing today?  Who else in history would have written such a thing?  Is there any indication that Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, or any other commander of a great army in  a world-turning invasion, considered how to save and perhaps salve the reputation of his troops, though they had failed?

Leadership is more than just positive thinking.

  • The message may also be viewed here. Yes, it’s incorrectly dated July 5 — should have been June 5.  In history, little is perfect.  We can excuse his slip of the pen, considering what else he had on his mind.

 

More:

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

Another  angle of the meeting with the troops:  General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944.  Wikipedia image

 

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

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74 years ago: “Eyes of the world are upon you” – Ike’s orders to the troops for D-Day, June 5, 1944

June 6, 2018

Wikimedia caption and data: General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day.

Wikimedia caption and data: General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day. “Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day. ‘Full victory-nothing less’ to paratroopers in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe.” Eisenhower is meeting with US Co. E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Strike) of the 101st Airborne Division, photo taken at Greenham Common Airfield in England about 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 1944. The General was talking about fly fishing with his men as he always did before a stressful operation. Memoir by Lt Wallace C. Strobel about this photo (seen wearing the number 23 around his neck): http://www.historyaddict.com/Ike502nd.html U.S. Army photo via the Library of Congress; U.S. Army photographer unknown.

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.

– Order of the Day, 6 June, 1944 (some sources list this as issued 2 June)

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


George Washington: No military junta, no king; an example we can all follow

December 23, 2016

This is a mostly encore post, emphasizing George Washington’s astounding ability to draw from history just exactly the right lesson, and then set the example that makes history.

Washington, though having never attended college, was an inveterate reader, and a sharp student of history.  Early he read the story of the great Roman, Cincinnatus, who made the Roman Republic great with his refusal to lust for power.  Cincinnatus twice was named Dictator, and both times resigned the commission rather than personally profit as others did — after saving Rome both times, of course.

In his own life, Washington also twice cast off the mantle of top leader, once when he resigned his commission as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army when so many assumed he would just keep on, and add the title of “King of America;” and the second time when, as president, he stepped aside and retired, leaving the leadership of the nation up to the Constitutional processes that had never before been tried successfully in any nation.

Washington’s resignation from the army command came on December 23, 1783 — such an important anniversary usually gets lost in preparations for Christmas, so I’ll post it a bit early.  In your holiday toasts, lift a glass to George Washington, who gave us civilian rule, an end to monarchy, and an example of responsible leadership making way for peaceful succession.

In 2007, I wrote:

On December 23, 1783, Commander of the Continental Army, Gen. George Washington resigned his commission, to the Continental Congress sitting in Annapolis, Maryland. Washington modeled his actions on the life of Roman general and patriot Cincinnatus. (See especially this site, the Society of the Cincinnati)

 

John Trumbull painting of Washington resigning his commission

John Trumbull’s painting of Washington resigning his commission; one of eight great paintings hanging in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol

Washington had been thought to be in a position to take over the government and declare himself king, if he chose. Instead, at some cost to himself he personally put down a rebellion of the officers of the army who proposed a coup d’etat against the Continental Congress, angered that they had not been paid. Washington quietly asked that the men act honorably and not sully the great victory they had won against Britain. Then Washington reviewed the army, wrapped up affairs, journeyed to Annapolis to resign, and returned to his farm and holdings at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Because Washington could have turned into a tyrant, it is reported that King George III of England, upon hearing the news of Washington’s resignation, refused to believe it. If the report were true, George is reported to have said, Washington was the greatest man who ever lived.

Washington’s resignation set precedent: Civilian government controlled the military; Americans served, then went back to their private lives and private business; Americans would act nobly, sometimes when least expected.

From the Library of Congress American Memory site, “Today in History”:

George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army on December 23, 1783, in the senate chamber of the Maryland State House in Annapolis, where the Continental Congress was then meeting.

Although the British had recognized American independence with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, British troops did not evacuate New York until December 4. After the last British ships left the harbor, Washington bid an emotional farewell to his officers and set out for Annapolis. On the journey south he was met with throngs of well-wishers paying him tribute for his role in the nation’s military victory over Great Britain.

Washington left Annapolis at dawn on December 24 and set out for Mount Vernon, his plantation on the Potomac River in Virginia. He arrived home before nightfall on Christmas Eve, a private citizen for the first time in almost nine years.

The Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis.

The Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis.

Maryland State House, Annapolis, Maryland
William Henry Jackson, photographer, circa 1892.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920

When Washington visited The Maryland State House in 1783, the structure was incomplete and suffered from a leaking roof. By 1786, when representatives from Maryland and Virginia meeting at the State House rallied support for the movement to remedy defects in the Articles of Confederation, construction of a new dome had begun. Today, the building begun in 1772 is the oldest state house still in legislative use.

Located at the mouth of the Severn River on the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis was settled in 1649 by Puritans who moved there from Virginia. The town was known in the seventeenth century as Town of Proctor’s, Town at the Severn, and Anne Arundel Town before it was named for Queen Anne in 1695. It is home to the U.S. Naval Academy and to St. John’s College, founded in 1696.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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He really said it, October 29, 1941: Churchill, ‘never give in’ (Quote of the Moment)

October 29, 2015

The statue of Churchill (1973) by Ivor Roberts-Jones in Parliament Square, London. Wikipedia image. Photo by Eluveitie.

The statue of Churchill (1973) by Ivor Roberts-Jones in Parliament Square, London. Wikipedia image. Photo by Eluveitie.

In late 1941, at the height of Britain’s troubles as the sole surviving, able-to-fight exponent of democratic government in Europe, Winston Churchill paid a visit to his old school, to hear the students sing and join them in song. He was asked to speak.

It was a short speech, wholly extemporaneous, but one phrase went on to become one of the most-quoted parts of any speech ever given, anywhere.

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense!

Winston S. Churchill, address to the boys of Harrow School, October 29, 1941.

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

 

 


Leader to the bone: Eisenhower’s astonishing D-Day leadership example, “Blame . . . is mine alone”

June 6, 2015

It is a model of leadership, an example more leaders should follow — though few do. It’s one more example of the high caliber leadership Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated throughout his life. In it’s imperfections, handwritten, it should take your breath away.  Eisenhower was a leader down to the bone.

So again, today, on the 71st anniversary of the D-Day invasion, we remember.

Eisenhower's unused statement on the failure of D-Day

Eisenhower’s contingency statement, in case D-Day failed – image from the National Archives

This quote actually isn’t a quote. It was never said by the man who wrote it down to say it. It carries a powerful lesson because of what it is.

In preparing for the D-Day invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower carefully contemplated what would happen if the invasion failed.  What if the Germans repulsed the Allies, and no foothold was established to re-take the main body of Europe from the Germans?

Ike’s answer is a model of leadership:  He would take the blame.  Regardless what happened, Ike took full responsibility for the failure, giving credit to the soldiers who would have sacrificed in vain, perhaps their lives.

The Bathtub recently posted Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s “order of the day” to the troops about to conduct the Allied invasion of Normandy — D-Day — to establish the toehold in Europe the Allies needed to march to Berlin, and to end World War II in Europe. As a charge to the troops, it was okay — Eisenhower-style words, not Churchill-style, but effective enough. One measure of its effectiveness was the success of the invasion, which established the toe-hold from which the assaults on the Third Reich were made.

eisenhower-with-paratrooper-eve-of-d-day.jpg

Photo shows Eisenhower meeting with troops of the 101st Airborne Division, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, on the eve of the invasion. It was these men whose courage he lauded.

When Eisenhower wrote his words of encouragement to the troops, and especially after he visited with some of the troops, he worried about the success of the operation. It was a great gamble. Many of the things the Allies needed to go right — like weather — had gone wrong. Victory was not assured. Defeat strode the beaches of Normandy waiting to drive the Allies back into the water, to die.

Eisenhower wrote a second statement, a shorter one. This one was directed to the world. It assumed the assault had failed. In a few short sentences, Eisenhower commended the courage and commitment of the troops who, he wrote, had done all they could. The invasion was a chance, a good chance based on the best intelligence the Allies had, Eisenhower wrote. But it had failed.

The failure, Eisenhower wrote, was not the fault of the troops, but was entirely Eisenhower’s.

He didn’t blame the weather, though he could have. He didn’t blame fatigue of the troops, though they were tired, some simply from drilling, many from war. He didn’t blame the superior field position of the Germans, though the Germans clearly had the upper hand. He didn’t blame the almost-bizarre attempts to use technology that look almost clownish in retrospect — the gliders that carried troops behind the lines, sometimes too far, sometimes killing the pilots when the gliders’ cargo shifted on landing;  the flotation devices that were supposed to float tanks to the beaches to provide cover for the troops (but which failed, drowning the tank crews and leaving the foot soldiers on their own); the bombing of the forts and pillboxes on the beaches, which failed because the bombers could not see their targets through the clouds.

There may have been a plan B, but in the event of failure, Eisenhower was prepared to establish who was accountable, whose head should roll if anyone’s should.

Eisenhower took full responsibility.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troop, the air [force] and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.

Who in the U.S. command would write such a thing today?  Who else in history would have written such a thing?  Is there any indication that Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, or any other commander of a great army in  a world-turning invasion, considered how to save and perhaps salve the reputation of his troops, though they had failed?

Leadership is more than just positive thinking.

  • The message may also be viewed here. Yes, it’s incorrectly dated July 5 — should have been June 5.  In history, little is perfect.  We can excuse his slip of the pen, considering what else he had on his mind.

 

More:

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

Another  angle of the meeting with the troops:  General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944.  Wikipedia image

This is mostly an encore post.


“Eyes of the world are upon you” – Ike’s orders to the troops for D-Day, June 5, 1944

June 6, 2015

Wikimedia caption and data: General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day.

Wikimedia caption and data: General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day. “Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day. ‘Full victory-nothing less’ to paratroopers in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe.” Eisenhower is meeting with US Co. E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Strike) of the 101st Airborne Division, photo taken at Greenham Common Airfield in England about 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 1944. The General was talking about fly fishing with his men as he always did before a stressful operation. Memoir by Lt Wallace C. Strobel about this photo (seen wearing the number 23 around his neck): http://www.historyaddict.com/Ike502nd.html U.S. Army photo via the Library of Congress; U.S. Army photographer unknown.

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.

– Order of the Day, 6 June, 1944 (some sources list this as issued 2 June)

(This is mostly an encore post.)


Quote of the moment: Gen. Patton’s oddly non-profane explanation of profanity

February 18, 2015

Lt. Gen. George Patton with the signal corps, July 11th 1943, Sicily. (General George Patton Museum) - See more at: http://ww2today.com/10th-august-1943-general-george-s-patton-slaps-another-soldier#sthash.dVuHaPeg.dpuf

Lt. Gen. George Patton with the signal corps, July 11th 1943, Sicily. (General George Patton Museum) – See more at: http://ww2today.com/10th-august-1943-general-george-s-patton-slaps-another-soldier#sthash.dVuHaPeg.dpuf

  • When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty. It may not sound nice to some bunch of little old ladies at an afternoon tea party, but it helps my soldiers to remember. You can’t run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn’t fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag. … As for the types of comments I make, sometimes I just, By God, get carried away with my own eloquence.
    • Remark to his nephew about his copious profanity, quoted in “The Unknown Patton” (1983) by Charles M. Province, p. 184 (here, via Wikiquote)

One:

One glorious summer, after a couple of months of Scouting, I signed on to do air pollution research for several weeks in the field, in and around Farmington, New Mexico.  Hours were long, and the driving between sampling sites was more than 120 miles a day, between Farmington and Teec Nos Pos, Arizona.  Driving through the desert, passing the Shiprock every day, is rough duty, but somebody had to do it.

My mother’s brother, Harry Stewart, lived in Farmington.  Weekends I was royally dined and liquored, and got the opportunity to meet Uncle Harry’s friends, who included C. M. Woodbury, then city manager of Farmington.  Woodbury’s exploits on the golf course provided constant entertainment.  His opinions about having to measure air pollution from the Four Corners Power Plant and the then-under-construction San Juan Generating Station gave me great insight into local views on regional and national issues, as the Clean Air Act wended its way through Congress.

Woodbury had been an aide of some sort to General George Patton in Europe, as I understood it.  Sadly, I never did get back to Farmington to debrief him in detail about World War II, a loss of information that still stings from time to time.  I think he was with the 752nd Tank BattalionWoodbury retired in 1976.

The movie, Patton, still played in theaters, and one Sunday, over dinner, conversation turned to great leadership and whether I thought Patton was such a leader.  I hadn’t seen the movie.  I didn’t know much about Patton.  I asked what a definition of a good leader might be.  Uncle Harry and Woodbury settled on this criterion:  A good leader is someone whose followers will go to hell and back for her, or him.  Why did Patton inspire that sort of followership, I asked.

Woodbury rambled on about Patton getting gasoline for his tanks and trucks on a run through German lines that became legendary, and was portrayed in the movie.  He talked about how Patton’s troops always could count on a good, warm meal when they got a break from battle.  He talked about how proud every soldier was to be a part of that unit under Patton’s command.  He stopped, his eyes welled up and a tear, or maybe more, rolled down his cheek.

“We would have gone to hell for Patton because we knew he would have gone to hell for us. And he did.”

William Manchester once noted that, in battle, soldiers don’t die for great causes.  They fight to defend and save the friend to the right and the friend to the left.

It would have been interesting to know Patton.

Two:

We moved to Texas in 1987. Texas is a culture shock, I think, regardless where one comes from, even sometimes if one comes from Texas.  We moved directly from Cheverly, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C.

Describing the conservative, goody-two-shoes aspects of Texas culture of that time can’t be done in shorthand.  A couple of examples:  Duncanville at the time had about 35,000 residents, and 44 churches.  Bordering Duncanville were three or five megachurches, among the largest in the nation, which drew heavily from Duncanville residents.  It was rare to meet someone who wouldn’t ask early in any conversation, “And where do you go to church?” A great, personal and close relationship to Jesus is expected to be a feature of any “normal” person’s life in Texas.  The day I drove out of Utah, I remember thinking as I rose above the fog heading up Parley’s Canyon that I would probably never again live in a place where it was so difficult to get a drink with dinner.  Then we moved to Texas.  On the surface, and often below the surface, Texans worked hard (and still do) to demonstrate that they are straighter than Mormons, and blessed because of their lack of sinning.  We don’t need to get into the ironies and incongruities of country music, Dallas culture and other now-well-identified sins of the Bible Belt.

Let’s just say, profanity was not something one publicly assented to.

I came down here to work with American Airlines, which was headed at the time by Robert Crandall.  Crandall’s use of profanity was legendary among AA executives and workers — executives, especially.  Crandall ran a tight operation with high expectations of worker achievement, especially in competition with other airlines.  “Competitive anger,” Crandall called it — and he expected all employees to demonstrate that, in appropriate, customer-serving, money-making ways.  Failures were noted, and often enough one might expect to be in a meeting with Crandall where an explanation of how and why things went wrong would be cut off with an expletive-filled dressing down that both made the victim subject understand the nature and severity of the error and pledge never to make that nor any other error ever again.

Talking about these events later, witnesses almost never said anything about the profanity.  Living in Texas where profanity was thought to make even strong men faint and swoon, Crandall’s expletives were considered instead indications of the importance of his thought, and speech, and markers that he was to be listened to.  I remember one young MBA rattled by the profanity; he left the company within a few weeks, and he wasn’t even the subject of the discussion.  But among others, especially successful managers and executives, discussion of content of meetings focused on the subject of the meetings, what was said about that subject, with unconscious excising of the profanity.

One famous meeting involved cutting costs, and the subject was security for a warehouse in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Complaints about the cost for security the previous year led the local manager to beef up fences, get rid of the security company, and get dogs to roam the area at night.  Crandall pushed harder, and discussion turned to whether it would be even cheaper than dog food to get a sound system that would randomly play the sounds of big, vicious dogs’ barking instead.  I wasn’t in that meeting, but I heard several different accounts, all of them noting the boss’s exploration of options others might not think of, and how hard it was to please him — but not one story that included any comment about profanity, which I learned had laced the entire episode and probably made it memorable to everyone within earshot. And so they’d retell it. A remarkable piece of effective corporate communication.

How does one gauge when and whether profanity is necessary, or effective, in communication?

In one project, we videotaped Crandall talking on company issues and what he expected in the leaders the company hired as managers.  In several hours of video, I don’t recall a single time we had to retape, or edit, any profanity out.  Crandall turned off the profanity when it might pose a problem.  People who know him outside the company often express surprise that he’d ever use such language.

I sometimes wondered if Crandall was a reincarnation of Patton in at least some small way.  But Crandall was born in 1935, and Patton died in 1945.  Reincarnation is not the answer.

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