What MPs Can Learn From General Eisenhower

Avatar photoMarc Rosenberg, CPA / Feb 26, 2023

One of the saddest things about history is how much of it is forgotten as the years move on. About 15 years ago, a survey asked high school students if Germany was an ally or enemy of the US in WW2. Most responded “ally.” How unfortunate.

But it proves how major historical events are shuttered into oblivion. Half of the US population is under 40; one wonders what they know of WW2, arguably the most significant event in U.S. history since the Civil War. 

I recently read an excellent book, The Supreme Commander: The War Years of Dwight D. Eisenhower by Stephen Ambrose, a prolific author of WW2 books. 

As I read the book, I was awed by Eisenhower’s leadership skills. Some call me an obsessed student and observer of management and leadership, to which I plead guilty. I often read books that have nothing to do with accounting firms and find sterling examples of management and leadership that apply to CPA firms. Such was the case with the Eisenhower book.  

First, an astonishing fact: Despite a life-long career in the military, when he was made Supreme Commander of Europe in 1943 at the age of 53, he had never seen combat 

Eisenhower (or Ike, as he was sometimes called) had two main, highly integrated goals: 

  1. Defeat Germany. 
  2. The herculean task of achieving teamwork and unity among the three main allies: The US (led by Roosevelt), Great Britain (led by Churchill), and France (led by de Gaulle). 

These legendary generals had strong, sometimes intractable personalities. Eisenhower was totally convinced that unless the allies worked together, they would never defeat Germany. And despite these circumstances, Ike achieved his task. 

Ike was a passionate believer in “teamwork wins wars.” He was a master at collaborating and listening to the allied leaders and their high-ranking officers. But in the end, Ike made most major decisions.  

The interference and barriers that these leaders threw at him, on a weekly basis for over three years, would have ruined most commanders.   His arguments with Britain’s revered top general, Montgomery, were fierce and legendary.   But he found ways to get along and work together for a common goal. MPs at CPA firms have similar challenges in dealing with partners who are difficult to work with and have their own agendas. 

Networking with the 50 or so key leaders and generals of the allies was critical to Ike’s success. In particular, he frequently called upon the myriad of US generals that he met as a West Point cadet for advice. Ike flew all around Europe to meet face-to-face hundreds of times with the team to establish workable relationships. 

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Ike was a planner extraordinaire. The logistics and strategies needed to command millions of army, navy and air force personnel and ensure that they were properly supplied with food, ammunition and supplies was overwhelming. Virtually every day of the war, he collaborated with his team. Said Ike: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”  

Leadership, said Ike, is “the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it, not because your position of power can compel him to do it, or your position of authority.” 

Ike practiced that fundamental job of a top leader: managing by wandering around. Almost weekly, he flew to key areas in Europe. The fronts changed constantly, and he tirelessly visited these sites, always talking with the troops as well as the officers. If teamwork was #1 to Ike, morale of the troops may have been #2. 

Working with notoriously difficult and obstinate people was at times near impossible. Nonetheless, one of Ike’s greatest achievements was working with Russia’s Stalin. After the Russians turned back the German attack at the Battle of Stalingrad, Stalin was giving mixed signals about staying in the war. Keeping Russia in the war was critical to the allies’ success because it maintained the two-front war, which would seal Germany’s doom. 

Don’t defend yourself. Don’t explain. Don’t worry.” (Ike’s letter to his top general, Omar Bradley.) Great advice to all MPs.

In the last month before Germany’s surrender in May 1945, the British, French and Russians were hell-bent on capturing Berlin, the seat of Hitler’s government. The symbolism of it was critical. But Eisenhower decided this would be a military mistake because as the allies advanced throughout Germany, Berlin had ceased to be an important military target. Ike felt there were more important military targets. The British and French eventually backed down. But the Russians continued their march to Berlin and were the first of the allies to reach the German capital, but only after a very large-scale bloody battle 

The final lesson here, applicable to MPs as much as military leaders: Make decisions because they are the right ones, not the popular ones.  

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  1. Edward Mendlowitz on April 20, 2023 at 9:39 pm

    Great treatment of Ike’s management technique. When he was president he was known for his effectice delegation.

    • Avatar photo Marc Rosenberg, CPA on April 20, 2023 at 10:44 pm

      I recently read a book on Ike during the WW2 years. There may never be a more skillful leader and manager than DDE.

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