WARNING: This piece starts with shameless shilling for my book, Lead Like Ike. Sorry, but if I don’t do it, who will?
As the author of Lead Like Ike: Ten Business Strategies from the CEO of D-Day (published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. on June 1st ) [http://tinyurl.com/y6nccz7], it’s always nice to see someone else who likes Ike hit print with a story about how effective a leader the man was. Last week, Campbell Craig, co-author of America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity wrote a piece in The New York Times [http://tinyurl.com/y34hn8n] analyzing the ways in which President Obama’s recently announced nuclear-arms policies resemble Ike’s.
The new policies are being criticized in almost the same way as Ike’s were — there are folks out there who feel that ruling out the use of nuclear weapons in most scenarios is a bad thing. Folks who feel that a nuke here or there, used in the correct way, can lead to a winnable nuclear war. Eisenhower, an active military man at the only time nuclear weapons were ever deployed, disagreed.
It’s not the only time Eisenhower was proved correct when many others disagreed with him. When running for president in 1952, Ike promised that he would go to Korea immediately if elected, and that he would stop the war. Many Democrats felt Ike was grandstanding for votes — that it was an empty promise. But Ike was elected, went to Korea, and ended the war there within five months of taking office.
How astonishing is that five-month time frame? Truman left office after starting the Korean involvement, having fought it for a couple of years without a clue how to end it. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford couldn’t end Vietnam for more than a decade, and President George W. Bush started wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that continue to percolate lethally along more than seven years later. Four wars, six presidents, and nary a resolution in sight. Only President George H.W. Bush has matched Ike’s accomplishment in Korea by starting, winning, and wrapping up the Persian Gulf War in 1991 within a single year.
The secret to the older President Bush’s success was the same as Ike’s: He never lost focus on what the mission was. Bush said that he wanted to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He wasn’t trying to destroy Saddam’s military capabilities or create a regime change. And once the U.S. led coalition had freed Kuwait, it pulled out. Mission accomplished.
Ike’s mission in Korea was to re-establish the status quo ante bellum. (That was Truman’s mission as well, he just didn’t know how to stop the shooting and pull out most of our troops.) Ike went to Korea, assessed the situation as only a former military commander could, decided what needed to be done to conclude an effective armistice, and did it.
During World War II, Eisenhower stayed focused on his mission even when many others did not. Ike arrived in London to create the organization that would invade Normandy and drive through France, Holland, and Belgium into the heart of Germany and beat the Nazis.
Winston Churchill wanted Ike to beat the Nazis as badly as anyone, but he refused to accept that the mission had to be through Normandy. He wanted Ike to operate in Greece, the Balkans, and/or Italy. (Churchill’s vision of operations in northern France was colored by the memories of Dunkirk — a devastating retreat from the Germans in 1940.) Almost all of the senior British military commanders agreed with Churchill. Remember, Ike’s working base was primarily in England for two years, so what the British thought weighed heavily upon him.
But the British were wrong: the fighting in Greece had gone all the Germans’ way. And the Balkans proved to be a nightmare for the Germans. Italy? The Allies fought in Italy for 9 months before capturing Rome — and were no closer to beating Germany at that point.
But . . . 11 months after D-Day, June 6, 1944, 11 months after Ike was able to lead the Allies over the beaches at Normandy, the Germans surrendered.
Ike never lost focus. Mission accomplished.
If you want to lead — in politics or business or community service — do it like Ike. Never lose focus. Accomplish your mission.