Responsibility and Leadership

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On June 6, 1944, 156,000 American, British, and Canadian troops landed in Normandy to establish a foothold in France and begin the drive to Berlin and victory in Europe in World War II. It’s easy to remember the victory and to praise the leaders and stand in awe of their competence and confidence.

But there were plenty of uncertainties at the time. Nothing this large or complex had ever been attempted. The great mass of US troops were still untested in battle.

The excellent German army was just across the Channel in well-prepared fortifications. They were led by one of Germany’s legendary military leaders, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

Even the weather was a factor. Eisenhower had already postponed the invasion because of some of the worst storms in memory. When he gave the order to launch the operation on June 6, he had only the most rudimentary weather information to go on.

Since we know how things came out, it’s easy to underestimate the uncertainty. But, for Ike there were huge gaps in information, complex operations that could break down, and a determined foe whose actions would influence the outcome of the day.

He faced the very real possibility that the invasion would fail and that thousands of Allied men would die without achieving victory. As he thought about that, he wrote out the message he would release if things went badly. Here it is.

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.

My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”

That kind of willingness to take responsibility is rare today. Today our leaders often deny any part in decisions that turned out wrong. They practice the art of spin.

How about if, just for the Fourth of July, we talk less about leadership and think more about responsibility?

Boss’s Bottom Line

No one wants to work with a coward or a liar. Be assured that your people will know if you act like either one. Great leaders give praise and take responsibility.

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