Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eisenhower on Leadership

No one ever accused Dwight Eisenhower of being a master wordsmith. And yet, he was surely a great leader. Not because he was the most eloquent, but because he got things done. And because he got others to do what had to get done.

As with most great leaders, Ike's leadership existed in his work, not in his speeches or theories. He did, however, offer one principle that has been often, and justly, quoted: "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want to get done because he wants to do it."

This tells us:

That leadership is about getting things done. Leadership is not like what happens in the theater where the goal is to move the audience emotionally.

That leadership is about getting other people to do what needs to be done. No one can do it alone; great leaders organize other people and motivate them to do what needs to be done.

That leadership involves motivating a person to do something that he (and not just the leader) wants done. When a subordinate undertakes a project he will feel that it makes sense to him, that it contributes to a common goal, and that it is the right thing to do.

This should preclude the leader's using trickery and manipulation. No leader will survive very long if his subordinate wakes up the next morning and feels that he has been tricked, manipulated, or seduced into doing the wrong thing. A subordinate's loyalty will be compromised if he comes to think that he has done something whose sole purpose is aggrandizing his boss.

Ike's remarks should be an effective antidote to the belief that leadership involves giving orders and imposing one's will. Strangely enough, considering the way most people are taught these things in school, leadership is not about power relations.

Leadership resides in the negotiation process that goes on before the order is given. If team members do not feel that an order makes sense in relation to their own concerns, their own observations, and their own recommendations, they will not execute it wholeheartedly.

After all, a commanding officer is not in the field. He will never succeed by ignoring the advice of those who are.

A leader will make everyone feel that they have been heard and that their concerns have been addressed. A leader leads when his followers do not feel like mere followers, when they can sign on to the task willingly, without any loss of pride or self-respect.

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