Eisenhower, D-Day, and keeping teams strong while making hard choices
If you think making decisions is hard, how about ones where the lives of thousands of people depend on your choice? Or possibly the free world? I find learning how people succeeded in difficult cases makes doing things well in my world easier.
Today’s post shows a dramatization of a decision then-General Eisenhower, Ike, had to make in preparing for D-Day. This scene stuck with me since I first saw the movie for a leadership class at Columbia Business School during a unit on decision-making.
The context: The clip shows two scenes–one two days before D-Day, the other the next morning. The allies have been preparing to invade Nazi-held Normandy for months and have only one day the moon and tides allow. They can possibly postpone a month, but dwindling troop morale and the risk of Nazis discovering and preparing makes that option poor.
Ike was the Supreme Allied Commander, meaning everyone reported to him and he alone held responsibility for many choices. Among them lay the conflicted decision on the first wave of the attack–the paratroopers. The invasion relied on them to attack German defenses from behind the beach and prevent reinforcements or else the ground troops might be overwhelmed. But weather and Nazi troop movement suggested they risked casualty rates high enough to render them useless.
Ike had to decide between competing interests from strong personalities–high-ranking Generals representing the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. He had limited access to critical information on weather and enemy deployment, yet he had to choose.
This scene shows exemplary decision-making and team management. The first part shows him speaking to the Generals representing the ground troops and paratroopers. The second shows the next morning, after he’s slept on it and decided, communicating his choice to the team.
I can’t speak to his choice (history shows he at least didn’t choose disastrously, though we can’t know what results the other choice might have brought), but note how he managed the team, because we can learn a lot from him.
Before choosing he listened to the different sides, showing the people he understood them and respected their thoughts.
He clearly communicated his process to decide.
After choosing, he clearly stated his reasons for choosing. He depersonalized the decision, choosing not by his opinion but by reasons everyone understood.
He made sure everyone understood that he understood the issue.
He showed people he understood the gravity of the situation. His saying it was the toughest decision he ever had to make stuck with me–that’s the part of the clip that made me remember it nearly a decade after first seeing it.
He keeps the people involved after choosing. He focuses Leigh-Mallory, the man representing the paratroopers, on his job and the team goal.
He doesn’t moralize or say what’s right, wrong, good, or bad. He sticks to what he believes will best achieve the team goal.
Tomorrow: What Ike did after this decision.
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