4 Leadership Lessons from a War Hero

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4 Leadership Lessons from a War Hero originally posted on Lean Leadership in November 2012. It’s being reposted in honor of all those who have served in our armed forces. Happy Memorial Day!

The phone rings. Colonel Walter Smith is calling Brigadier General Dwight Eisenhower. It has been just five days since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Colonel Smith is insisting that General George Marshall wants Eisenhower in Washington, D. C. immediately. He doesn’t know it yet; Eisenhower just received the call that would not only change the course of his life, but that of the world.

Eisenhower arrives at the Army Chief of Staff office in Washington. General Marshall gives a twenty-minute briefing of the U.S. military in the Pacific. Once he finished the briefing, Marshall asks Eisenhower, “What should be our general line of action?” Eisenhower is in top professional form. He is competent. He is confident. Yet, he is taken aback by the magnitude of the question. Eisenhower requests for a few hours to consider what should be done. He sits down at a typewriter and types “Steps to Be Taken.”

Eisenhower makes recommendations to General Marshall. His thoughts impress the General enough that Eisenhower is transferred to the War Plans Division in Washington, D.C. The stage is set for Eisenhower’s amazing rise through the ranks. General Marshall continues to test Ike while in that post. The General is so impressed that Eisenhower is promoted to Major General less than a year after making Brigadier General. Eisenhower begins his work in Europe with the Allies. President Roosevelt even selects Eisenhower over General Marshall to become the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. General Eisenhower plans the invasions of Sicily and Italy, then of course, D-Day. Shortly thereafter, General Eisenhower is promoted to the position of General of the Army.


Ike is wearing 5 Stars and is the most senior officer in the United States Army. He returns home victorious over Hitler. General Eisenhower has earned the admiration and respect of people around the globe. He is ultimately elected to two terms as the 34th President of the United States.

What can we learn from General Eisenhower’s call to Washington and his rise the top? There are many lessons to be learned from his success. We’ll look at just a few:

  1. Be prepared: General Eisenhower did not expect to be asked for his recommendations for a war plan when he made that trip to Washington. He prepared himself by the way he went about his daily work for years leading up to that fateful day. Leaders are prepared.
  2. Be courageous and confident, but not over-confident: Ike was already well-respected and had every reason to be confident. Over confidence could have resulted in a quick answer. A lack of courage or confidence would have prevented him from asking for time. He would have feared how it would look not to answer on the spot. Instead, Eisenhower requests time to give the best answer he could. Leaders are confident and courageous, not overconfident.
  3. Perseverance: Major Eisenhower’s career in the peacetime army of the 1920’s and 30’s stagnated. It took 16 years for him to get promoted from Major to Lieutenant Colonel. While many of his friends left the army for lucrative careers in business, Major Eisenhower chose to continue his military service. This decision changed the course of history. Leaders persevere.
  4. Understand that even the best plans may need to be modified: D-Day was a tremendous military victory in that it opened the door for the Americans to fight on European soil. It came at the cost of many lives on both sides. Victory was not easy and it was not assured. It is a little known fact that General Eisenhower had prepared a speech in case the Allied invasion failed. Leaders know when to change their plans.

President Eisenhower was a rare leader. He went from a rural upbringing just one generation removed from the Wild West to a World War II hero to the White House. His military achievements are unsurpassed. He was the most admired American the year before his death. There are many lessons to be learned from his life. What lesson will you put into action to improve your leadership today?


Historical information used in this article were found at Wikipedia or WhiteHouse.gov. Please leave a comment below if you liked this article. You can also connect on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, subscribe via e-mail (right side bar), retweet, digg, or stumble this article. Your feedback is appreciated.

About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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1 Response to 4 Leadership Lessons from a War Hero

  1. Pingback: 4 Leadership Lessons from a War Hero | Lean Leadership « The Lean Blog

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