History often teaches us the most important lessons in life. As we discuss management and leadership in our community, I am often reminded of General Dwight Eisenhower and the scene that unfolded for him and his peers during World War Two. Appointed by President Roosevelt, ‘Ike’ was given command of all of the Allied forces in the European theatre, and ultimately, responsibility for planning and executing D-Day. The future President of the United States is remembered as one of the greatest leaders in the history of mankind, but his ascent to these positions was not without quarrels and lessons in humanity.
A quick study of the Allied command automatically brings several problems to fruition. First of all, Gen. Eisenhower was promoted to his position over a good friend and mentor, General George Marshall. Secondly, Eisenhower was put into his position because of his brilliance in wrangling people. Under his command were Field Marshall ‘Monty’ Montgomery, of England, and General Omar Bradley of the U.S.A. Both of these men were exceptional military commanders, but both were also Alpha personalities that wanted all the glory. As such, they clashed constantly. D-Day, and eventually the Allied victory in the European theatre, can all be attributed to ‘Ike’s abilities to take these men and lead them despite their differences. Herein lies the lesson.
How many of us have been promoted, or been put in a position of prominence at some point in our careers, having done so knowing that others were passed over? We are all on the same team, however, these are human instincts and must be brought into the open and dealt with. How many of us manage teams full of personalities that are all different? Who, among us, has a Monty or a Bradley on their teams? Each person that works with us on a daily basis is an individual, all with strengths and weaknesses, all with obvious direct value to our teams. If you’d asked any one of these historical figures about management and leadership in the military, they would say that the former is easy, but the latter is what makes the difference between men. Management in the military is black and white: a reporting structure exists, and everyone follows orders. Leadership, however, is something entirely different.
Good leadership has everything to do with having people come with you on a task, not telling them what to do and watching them do it. Leadership exists in many different forms in the Service Desk, and it is not exclusive to management. Leadership takes all of the different forms of the human element, ties them together, and makes a team. A group of individuals become one voice with the same goals and direction under a great leader. A good leader identifies the different elements of each personality and arranges them in such a way to get the maximum potential out of each individual. Human studies show us that there will always be conflict, but good leaders identify the ways to unite diverse personalities, even in the heat of the moment.
The best thing that examining General Eisenhower and his command of the European theatre of World War Two can teach all of us is this: ‘Ike’ never wanted to be the Supreme Commander, never wanted to be known as the Supreme Commander, and consistently shrugged off his accomplishments. They were not his accomplishments, he said, but the accomplishments of the team. He held his group of soldiers in the highest regard, and was beloved by nearly everyone that served under his command. He trusted his men to do their job, and in turn, they trusted him to lead them to victory.
Throughout history, these principles of leadership have been the key to many successful engagements: on the battlefield, in the court room, in the class room, in the board room, and yes, even in our service desks.