Some of the best roles models for today’s business leaders are the former presidents of the United States. These men often overcame great hardships and made incredible sacrifices to achieve their dreams for the nation. One of the presidents who has been praised as an excellent leader by people of all political persuasions is Dwight Eisenhower.
Eisenhower was renowned as a five-star general and superior military strategist before he took office as president in 1953. What made him such a great leader was his unassuming form of leadership that was defined by humility, commitment, and a genuine interest in doing right by the citizens of the United States. Below are some of the key lessons that leaders can learn from his presidency.
Motivation is superior to instigation.
Eisenhower is credited with the belief that great leadership involves getting another person to do something that needs to be done because that person actually wants to do it. To accomplish this, he relied heavily on good communication. The president chose his words carefully and ensured that his speeches hit the perfect tone to motivate the people around him. He was notorious for requesting rewrite after rewrite of his speeches because he knew how important it was to motivate rather than instigate. Making people act out of anger or frustration is easy, but having them act out of passion is a true art. Passion ensures that people perform at their peak and go above and beyond expectations.
Stay humble at all times.
When the Allies won World War II, the victory was in no small part due to Eisenhower’s superior leadership, and people immediately called for him to become president. However, he did not consider himself a hero and would instead point to the soldiers who risked and lost their lives on the front lines as the real heroes. Later, when he decided to run for president, he maintained the same humility. Historians have pointed out that he was never a president who put himself in the limelight. Instead, he let the people around him take credit for their ideas, and in turn, he was rewarded with loyalty and a staff motivated to perform at their best.
Avoid personal attacks.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Eisenhower almost never overtly criticized the people around him, and he certainly never took any cheap shots, even when he would have been justified in doing so. This nonconfrontational attitude derived from his belief that people can disagree on principles, but motives are personal and should never be questioned. In other words, he believed that there is a clear difference between a disagreement and an attack on someone’s fundamental character. Eisenhower, like all of us, did have a temper, but he kept it in check and likely saved countless relationships in the process. Business is much like politics in this way. People may disagree, but this does not give anyone license to issue personal attacks, which can undermine trust and authority.
Admit what is not known.
Eisenhower knew that his own genius was nothing compared to the genius of the people who counseled and advised him. Readily, he would admit when he did not know something and defer to the experts around him. Business leaders sometimes see this action as a sign of weakness rather than one of strength. However, the best business leaders surround themselves with the best people they can and rely on the strength of their entire team. Dictatorships are unsustainable—collaboration is a much more effective strategy for coming to the best final decision possible. Eisenhower was known for bringing people together in person to debate an issue, and he would encourage dissenting voices to speak so that he could see a problem from all sides.
Straightforward praise is ideal.
Leaders who rely on grandiose speeches to motivate their team may see the effects of such talks wane over time. People want personal feedback, and Eisenhower understood this. The president would do his best to meet with people privately to give them thanks and praise for a job well done. Such a personal touch, characterized by simple and honest feedback, can prove incredibly motivating for team members. A leader who takes the time to give individual feedback also shows humility and concern for the well-being of the team. Typically, a simple pat on the back is much more effective than a speech with empty words.
Adopt a positive outlook.
Eisenhower understood that optimism is every bit as contagious as pessimism, so he strived to remain cheerful even through hard times. This positivity can boost morale and given any organization the strength it needs to pull through. When leaders whine, complain, or become anxious, it sends a bad message to the team, which can in turn lose faith. Leaders need to ensure that their verbal and nonverbal language is uplifting, rather than depressing. Eisenhower came across as a competent, hard-working man who believed in the promise of the future and in the ability of his administration to accomplish its goals. When leaders strive for the same, they keep their team motivated and engaged.