On Memorial Day, Remembering Leaders of Yesterday and Today


My father was a decorated World War II veteran, and Memorial Day is certainly about remembering all of our fallen veterans, but for me, especially my father. He was in Africa, England, all over the European theater during the war – one of the first to ship out, one of the last to return. We have a big scrapbook he kept during the war about where he went and what he did as a quartermaster in the Big Red One. He did not talk about his experiences with us until the end of his life, and even then, not that much. When my sister and I took him to the newly opened World War II memorial in Washington, DC he viewed the friezes along the walls and started to cry. “The war was really like that”, he told me, overcome with emotion. My father was a veteran for peace, and believed in equal rights for all. He lived his beliefs.

As I remember my father, I also remember his quiet brand of leadership. He and my mother were mentors for many people, were active in our community, and were consulted often for their opinion and good sense. Both of my parents were modest people, and helped others see what would work for them, doing so with compassion, good listening skills, and strong advice when needed. They were just my parents, so I did not really realize their leadership qualities or positions when I was growing up. Now I do.

My father always talked about General Dwight Eisenhower as a real leader, and that the men he served with all would do whatever “Ike” asked because he was one of them. I wish I had asked better questions as to why this was so. Since I cannot do that, I searched for General Eisenhower and found an article from Inc.com, entitled Leadership Without Presumption: Lessons From Eisenhower by Samuel Bacharach. The subtitle is: Intellectuals scoffed at Eisenhower during his time in office. Now his leadership style seems like genius.

Associated Press photo

Associated Press photo

Doris and I have blogged about leadership in the networked age, and what it looks like (see my blog on the New Leader, and Doris’s blog on Leading to Learn). It seemed to me that Eisenhower embodied many of the traits we talk about. Here are his leadership tips:

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously: Leaders need to be serious and focused when pushing agendas, but they must have a sense of humor throughout the process. Humor helps deal with the inevitable roadblocks.
  2. A leader doesn’t simply order people around: Eisenhower stressed that getting people to move is a subtle process that involves dialogue and interaction. It’s not about defining what you as a leader want, but discovering what everyone wants and fighting for that. Leaders must appreciate that leadership is about continually searching for common needs and involves conversation, both listening and talking.
  3. Know that coalitions are vital: “In a war such as this, when high command invariably involves a president, a prime minister, six chiefs of staff, and a horde of lesser ‘planners,’ there has got to be a lot of patience–no one person can be a Napoleon or a Caesar.” Eisenhower knew the value of patience, and that coalitions and political sway were necessary to accomplishing the mission.
  4. There are smarter people out there: Eisenhower had the guts to admit he didn’t know everything. It made him humble and it’s why he became a successful leader. In his book, At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends, he advises, “Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.”
  5. A pat on the back is all you need:  “I adopted a policy of circulating through the whole force to the full limit imposed by my physical considerations. I did my best to meet everyone from the general to private with a smile, a pat on the back and definite interest in his problems.” This is what my father was referring to when he told me Eisenhower was “one of them”.
  6. Be cheerful: Eisenhower made it his business to be a positive, cheery, and upbeat. He knew optimism, like pessimism, was contagious. By remaining positive and trying to “reflect the cheerful certainty of victory” he believed he could boost individual and company morale.

The article ends with: Eisenhower was a good leader because he knew how to be political and get things done while remaining humble and, more importantly, human.

Online leadership is not very different than this in principle, just carried out in new ways that Eisenhower did not live to see (although he was the predictor of the military-industrial complex – how prescient is that?). This week Harold Jarche talks about leadership in the “working out loud”, networked age in his blog post, Leading Beyond Automation:

As we enter the network era, we see that leadership is an emergent property of a network in balance and not some special property available to only the select few. Effective knowledge networks require leadership from everyone – an aggressively intelligent and engaged workforce, learning with each other. Positional leadership, by the authority of some hierarchy, is giving way to reputational leadership, as determined by the myriad feedback loops of the network. To lead in a network, is to learn in a network, as relationships and conditions change. Anyone can show leadership, not just managers or those with ‘high potential’.

Here are some of Jarche’s online networked leadership qualities:

  1. Network leadership assumes human creative potential can be realized in supportive and challenging environments by engaging everyone. In networks, everyone can be a contributor within a transparent environment. Anyone can lead in a network, if there are willing followers. Leadership in networks is developed through the reputation of one’s actions. Those who have the consensus to lead have to actively listen and make sense of what is happening.

  2. Networked leaders make better decisions by actively listening to networked contributors who are closely in touch with their environment. With an informed perspective, they can propose changes and build consensus around suggested responses. Connected leadership is helping the network make better decisions.

  3. As networked, distributed, non-routine work (not automated) becomes the norm, trust will emerge only in those work environments that are open, transparent, and diverse. Trust is necessary to ensure that implicit knowledge flows, which contributes to organizational longevity. Organizations need to learn as fast as their environments. Constant experimentation must be the order of each day. Machines will continue to replace jobs but people can create new work roles that are creative and social, beyond the reach of automation.

  4. … those in leadership and management positions today must find ways to nurture creativity and critical thinking. Management must set the initial example of transparency and working out loud. In addition, self-management is required at all levels. When there is no one to defer work to, everyone sets an example through their actions. In this environment everyone is learning and everyone is teaching by example.

Although today’s leaders are working out loud, Eisenhower would have no trouble adjusting – his beliefs fit right into today’s world.

It seems to me that David Goldberg, the CEO of SurveyMonkey who tragically died this month, embodied the Eisenhower leadership traits as a networked CEO. The comments by his employees, friends, former co-workers, and his wife, Sheryl Sandberg, all point to a man who was humble, believed in a pat on the back, trusted in the expertise of his employees and led a company that worked out loud, empowered teams to learn together for better results, was cheerful and thoughtful, yet guided the company toward a collective vision of growth and new services. After his death, work teams at SurveyMonkey finished projects while using the hashtag #makeDaveproud. A modern tribute to a modern leader.

I tend to think of these types of leaders as quiet leaders who believe in the competence, intelligence, skills, and common goodness of others, and engender complete trust. Whether a small business owner like my Dad, a 5 star general and President of the United States like Eisenhower, or the CEO of a successful tech company like Goldberg, they lead by building trust and letting others do what they do best: learn, grow, do, and get the job done together at a higher level than can be attained alone. Leadership that’s back to the future.

Do you see parallels in networked learning and Eisenhower’s leadership tips? What other shared traits would you add?


Featured image attribution: General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1948. Credit: Associated Newspapers/Rex/Rex USA

5 replies
  1. Mary Ellen Early
    Mary Ellen Early says:

    Lisa & Doris, I really enjoyed this article. My father served as a heavy machine gunner under Eisenhower and spoke very highly of him. In contrast, he had nothing good to say about Patten who was not very considerate of his troops. I shared the article with a couple of colleagues because the leadership tips are so appropriate. Mary Ellen

    • Lisa Levinson
      Lisa Levinson says:

      Thanks, Mary Ellen. Isn’t it funny how we always go back to the future? I would love to hear about your Dad’s experiences as well. Isn’t it amazing how that quiet leadership works so well to motivate people and to create a sense of higher purpose?

  2. Lyn Boyer
    Lyn Boyer says:

    Lisa, What a lovely tribute to your father and to General/ President Eisenhower! I also think about my father on Memorial Day. He was on the other side of the world in very different circumstances, but his quiet leadership and commitment made me who I am. This is a beautiful reminder of leadership online and offline.

    • Lisa Levinson
      Lisa Levinson says:

      Thanks, Lyn. I so agree about how the quiet leadership of both our fathers influenced us as people. The models we have growing up are really so powerful – even when we take them for granted! If your Dad was on the other side of the world, in the Pacific, I know that he also saw and experienced many hardships. They really were the greatest generation!

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