Eisenhower’s leadership –


Once again, we are pleased to present a special collaboration by Carlos Gil Fernández, passionate about history and specialized in Military History by the UNED. We hope you enjoy it, thanks again for your contribution, Carlos.


The objective of this work is the detailed study of the leadership style of the American General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the characteristics of his personality that made said style what it was and not another one.

In order not to make the study too broad, the time frame that I will bear in mind will be the period between the preparatory operations for the Normandy landings (Operation Overlord), approximately from the last quarter of 1943 to the dates immediately after the landing in June 1944. However, it is very likely that part of the examples or situations that it exposes go beyond this time horizon.

Likewise, and to focus on the subject, when I talk about leadership I will do so always keeping in mind the studies of Stephen Covey and Kenneth Blanchard, two of the best scholars of the meaning of leadership worldwide. As I will demonstrate throughout the work, General Eisenhower meets most of the requirements that both authors attribute to a true leader. Personally, I call this style “quiet leadership”, away from other more “noisy” styles, such as Patton, MacArthur, or Montgomery.


Our general was born in a Texas town in 1890, into a family of German origin (although he could also be Dutch or Swiss according to his biographer Donovan) and of strong religious and pacifist convictions (Mennonites and Jehovah’s Witnesses). With this background, it is strange that the future president chose to enter the Military Academy, and he did so persuaded by his friend Swede Harlett, who enrolled in the Annapolis Naval Academy.

Another of the little enigmas that I have found in Dwight’s life is the origin of his nickname IKE. For one of his biographers, Geoffrey Perret, all four Eisenhower brothers were nicknamed Ike: Fat Ike, Short Ike, so it was a family nickname. To other historians, however, Ike is a simplification of his first name Dwight. Personally, I prefer this second explanation.

The four years at West Point pass without pain or glory. Ike only excels in sports, specifically football and boxing. He graduates in 1915 at number 61 of his class of 164 students, being assigned as a second lieutenant in Fort Houston, Texas, In 1916 he is appointed inspector of a regiment in Illinois. Here, Dwight will demonstrate his great organizational skills for the first time, as he is in charge of training the entire regiment.

As of 1917, once the United States entered the war, he repeatedly requested his transfer to the front. He is always denied. However, in 1918 he is assigned to the recently created 301 Heavy Tank Battalion, where he meets and develops a deep friendship with George Patton.

An important milestone in his life was the meeting with a person who decisively influenced his career, General Conner, whom he followed as executive officer of the 20th Infantry Brigade in Panama and who instructed him in philosophy, history and diplomacy.

At the end of the 1920s, Ike finally traveled to Europe as part of a Commission of the American Army. On this trip he meets the future General Marshall, then a Lieutenant Colonel, whom he greatly impresses. Shortly thereafter he meets another of the great contemporary American heroes: Douglas MacArthur, with whom he departs for the Philippines in 1935 as his personal military adviser.

The Second World War would find him as Chief of Staff of the 3rd Army with the rank of colonel. In the words of Robert C. Carroll in his excellent study published in 2009, “Ike would rise to the top without having commanded any military unit larger than a battalion, and none in combat.”

What would definitely boost his career would be the report made to General Marshall on the strategy to be followed in the Pacific War as of December 1941. The strategy planned by Eisenhower was the one that largely determined the actions to be carried out by the American forces. during the first phase of the war.

It was perhaps this report that led Marshall to assign London in 1942 as Commander-in-Chief of American forces in Europe and Africa. From this new post, Ike would direct the landings in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, as well as Normandy, commanding the allied forces in Europe until the end of the war.

In 1952 he will be elected President of the United States. He was reelected in 1956. He died in 1969 at the age of 78.


General Theory about leadership:

We could define leadership as that set of managerial or directive skills that an individual has to influence the way of being or acting of people or of a certain group, making this team work enthusiastically towards the achievement of its goals and objectives.

Although there are many classifications, for the purposes of this work we will distinguish three basic types of leadership styles: the autocratic or dictatorial, the democratic and the charismatic. Each depends on the greater or lesser control by the leader and the intervention of subordinates in decision making.

Another essential factor in a leader is his ability to establish positive relationships, both with his superiors and with his subordinates. This “relationship management” facilitates the achievement of objectives.

Leadership according to Stephen Covey:

His main theories are collected in his two works The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Y Leadership based on principles, the latter will be the basis that I will take to analyze the leadership style of General Eisenhower.

The 8 characteristics that, according to Covey, differentiate a leader from someone who is not are the following.

  • continually learn
  • Is geared towards serving others
  • Radiate positive energy.
  • Believe in other people.
  • Avoid extremism.
  • Approach your life as a great adventure
  • Understand and practice synergies
  • Practice personal renewal.

Leadership according to Kenneth Blanchard:

This author analyzes leadership from two points of view: the first as guidelines to be followed by a manager for an effective management of his team: it is the so-called situational leadershipin which the manager adapts in each situation to the personality of each of his subordinates when directing them within the work team.

In another of his books, the one that we will follow in more detail, entitled Leadership at the highest level, exposes his theory that concentrating on the fulfillment of objectives is not enough, but that the High Level Leader must pursue obtaining a greater good, that is, what is best for all concerned. To do this, this type of leader must focus on long-term results and human satisfaction.

The high-level leader focuses on the creation of efficient work groups with high goals, specifies the objectives, communicates them and grants them freedom to achieve them. This type of leader does not focus on tasks or results, but on people.


At the end of June 1942, Eisenhower, along with a small number of American soldiers, is sent to London to take charge of the armed forces of the United States on the European continent and Africa, forces that, by the way, did not reach more than a few hundred men, mostly Aviation and Navy.

The general’s assignment is clear: start organizing everything to prepare for a future invasion of the European continent. The pressures to open a second front in Europe are strong, both from the Russian ally, and from public opinion in the United Kingdom and the United States: this second front was wanted and it was wanted now. Any other military man would have been overwhelmed by such a task, but not Ike. With his great organizational skills, his diplomatic and dialoguing spirit and his great optimism, he began to plan everything.

And the first thing he did was surround himself with the best work team that the circumstances allowed. Ike is focused on people, he knows of a great superior goal (the invasion of Europe), but to achieve it he must create a high-potential team that will help him achieve it in the shortest possible time.

It begins with his chief of staff, General Walter Bedell Smith, a self-made man who began his military career as a private in the National Guard. Let’s see why he chose you: “excellent acquisition, for the mastery of details and his understanding of the points of most interest. Serious, industrious and loyal, he proved to be as capable in difficult discussions as in professional activities. With a strong character and rough by instinct, he knew how to harmonize without compromising and knew how to earn an enviable prestige ”. The general, and this is one of the main qualities of a great leader, knows perfectly each and every one of his subordinates, to be able to use them in the most suitable functions for his characteristics.

Likewise, he appoints General Clark as head of the II Corps, also General John CH Lee as Chief of Quartermaster, whose labor was so essential to success and of such vast proportions that a volume would be required to describe it. In Ike’s own words, turned England into an air base, a camp, a warehouse of gigantic proportions. Finally, it is worth highlighting, among his closest subordinates, General Spaatz Aviation, whom he also praises in his memoirs.

In any case, the most complicated relations were always between the Americans and the British. Apart from the differences in strategy between the two armies, close to two million American soldiers were already stationed in the United Kingdom in 1944, in what was called the largest peaceful invasion in history. Eisenhower was responsible for making this invasion truly peaceful, and as a great leader with a far-sighted vision he went to work solving potential problems with frequent meetings with the British (both civilian and military). In his memoirs he praises the good disposition of the British Information Minister, Brendan Bracken, with whom he worked side by side to develop various bilateral education programs and even sheltering American soldiers in English homes or distributing brochures among British civilians or American troops. .

It is also very interesting to highlight the opinion that the minister had of the general: “I like to get along with him because he quickly says yes or no and always justifies his answer.”

The general always treated Americans and British alike, trying to equally distribute responsibilities between both nationalities. He proved that…