At VoiceGlance, we believe the key to any organization’s success is hiring the right people. To honor that belief, we created a series that recognizes some of the greatest American hires of the past 100 years. The following article is part of that series.
In 1943, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a history-altering decision to make: he had to choose his Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Whoever his pick was would have to lead the allies’ invasion into Europe, which would ultimately decide the war on the western front.
He had no shortage of great generals, but whoever he picked would have to lead the other men, many of whom would likely be jealous. He had the great strategist, Gen. George Marshall, the fiery Gen. George Patton, the decorated Englishman, Bernard Montgomery, and the legendary Frenchman, Charles de Gaulle.
And yet, FDR selected Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Kansas boy with Pennsylvania Dutch roots who had no actual combat experience. It couldn’t have gone better.
As supreme commander, Eisenhower had to deal with a plethora of egos, from all the generals just mentioned to FDR to Churchill to Joseph Stalin. And yet, it did little to prevent him from leading the largest seaborne invasion in history, D-Day, and ultimately accepting the unconditional surrender of the Germans on May 7, 1945.
So what made Eisenhower special? Why was he the right man for the job? It wasn’t because he was the best strategist or the fieriest or the most charismatic. Instead, historians point to two characteristics that made Eisenhower the great leader he was.
First off, they praised his quiet confidence. Eisenhower’s confidence – not arrogance – was unyielding and contagious, which in turn made his subordinates confident that whatever they were doing would work.
“Optimism and pessimism are infectious and they spread more rapidly from the head downward than any other direction,” Eisenhower said.
Secondly, and more importantly, he wasn’t a micromanager, yet still maintained control over his men. He let Patton be Patton, Montgomery be Montgomery and on and on and yet still got them to do what he wanted.
How? Through persuasion.
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it,” Eisenhower said.
Eight years after World War II ended, Eisenhower became president, a position he held for eight years.
His administration, like any other, had its rough patches, namely his delay in stopping McCarthyism. But still, while he governed, there were balanced budgets, the construction of the interstate highway system, an exploding economy, the desegregation of schools, the end of the Korean War and, after that, eight years of relative peace.
And yet, when we look back at his presidency, many remember just a kindly man who enjoyed playing golf. And that’s exactly why FDR hired him, and the same reason he’s mostly skipped over in history, despite being perhaps the most important American of the 20th-century. Eisenhower had a knack of quietly succeeding, of getting results without all the credit.
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