vpresize VICTORY Principles: Leadership Lessons from D-Day by Colonel Leonard Kloeber, Jr.


Learn from History: Leadership requires a vision

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Sixty-Five years ago, Allied armies under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower stormed the beaches at Normandy to liberate Europe and end World War II. This was and still remains one of the most complex military operations ever undertaken. It was planned and executed without the help of modern communications and computers that we now take for granted. So what can we learn from these historical events of over a half century ago that could help us today? Leadership.

The successful Allied invasion was the result of superior leadership starting with General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander, and continued all the way down to the sergeants and junior officers that led the troops into battle. While the Germans also had some good individual leaders like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, as a group, the did not share the same vision on how they would defend the beaches. Thus, what started as a foothold on the continent by the Allies grew into a major assault that could not be contained. The leadership provided by General Eisenhower and his subordinates became a major factor as the Allies fought together as a team. The Allies were able to eventually land enough troops and supplies while the Germans could not replace their losses. After some very difficult fighting, the American Third Army under the leadership of General Patton broke through the German lines. Once the breakout occurred the Germans were about to be surrounded. Those that could escape to fight another day retreated while the vast majority were either casualties or became prisoners of war.

The same principles of leadership used by the Allied commanders are universal leadership principles that can applied even today. Given the complex challenges facing the country, it will be excellent leadership that carries us forward to a better day, just as it did sixty-five years ago.

Today more than ever, strong leadership is required to solve the major challenges facing our country and the world. Business leaders need to provide strong leadership to their organizations in a weak economy. Others need to solve major problems on energy, health care, and global warming. Although these historic leadership lessons were forged in the heat of a desperate battle on D-Day, the common element that still remains is human nature. Leadership is the skill that gets things done, solves problems and moves us to a better day. We need effective leaders at all levels and in a cross section of business, non-profit, as well as government enterprises. Thus, the same principles that were used by Allied leaders to achieve victory then, can be used today to lead us forward.

A good example of a leadership principle in action is the concept of “vision.” General Eisenhower provided a vision of his plan for a successful invasion. The plan was known as Operation Overlord. All leaders must have a compelling vision of the future. This defines where they want to go and provides their followers an element of hope of success for the future. Although this is a simple, and perhaps obvious component of good leadership, it is easier said than done. Crafting a compelling vision requires a leader to have a deep understanding of his or her operating environment, the capabilities and limitations of their organization, and a clear understanding of their strategy for moving ahead. Good leaders involve their people to help them develop their vision. This creates organizational buy-in and builds support within the organization. Thus, vision is a fundamental component of good leadership. If you plan to be a successful leader, learn from history and make sure that you have a compelling vision to inspire your followers.

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May 23rd, 2009 at 3:51 pm

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