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July 23, 2003
The higher education of Dwight D. Eisenhower

There are those who say that Dwight D. Eisenhower was a less than perfect leader, and say, for instance that he could and should have finished matters in Europe in 1944-45 at a date nearer to 1944 than he managed to. Nevertheless Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe, President of the United States (for two terms). The man was clearly doing something right. Here's an explanation of what, from the book How To Be A Star At Work by Robert E. Kelley:

Harvard Business School professor Abraham Zaleznik, an expert on the mentoring process, writes about President Dwight Eisenhower, who had a mediocre record when he graduated from West Point. He seemed headed for a lackluster career as a lower-level army officer when, during World War 1, he was assigned to support duty at a desk job. Meanwhile, his classmates were on the front lines of the French-German border gaining valuable combat experience and winning battlefield promotions.

After the war, it was Eisenhower who realized that if he wanted a distinguished career in the army, he had to find someone to show him how to understand the institution in ways he couldn't learn at West Point. So he sought out a highly respected commander, General Fox Connor, and requested a transfer to serve with him.

Eisenhower was fortunate that Connor warmed up to the mentoring prospect. The two men, Zaleznik notes, bonded like father and son-it was Connor who showed him the lay of the land in the army and challenged him to live up to the high expectations a mentor places in a follower.

Eisenhower later wrote that what he learned under Connor was " sort of like a graduate school in military affairs and the hurnanities, leavened by a man who was experienced in his knowledge of men and their conduct." Eisenhower later won an appointment to the prestigious Command and General Staff School, where he graduated first in his class and launched his brilliant career. He owed it all, he wrote years later, to his mentor.

So okay, Eisenhower didn't learn how to finish world wars quite as quickly as he might have, but he certainly learned how to get great jobs.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:27 PM
Category: Adult education

Wasn't one of the things about Eisenhower that he wasn't really a military commander at all - more of a chairman of an alliance whose real responsibilities were to make sure that his armies had strategic direction and proper supply and to make sure that Montgomery and Patton didn't kill one another?

Comment by: Patrick Crozier on July 23, 2003 08:22 PM


Obviously I didn't want this to get sidetracked into a discussion of WW2 strategy, and saying that some people criticised him was a way to pre-empt this rather than invite discussion of it.

But your point does point up Eisenhower's greatest strengths as a commander, and the original posting shows that this makes perfect sense. Eisenhower may not have fully understood war, but he fully understood armies and soldiers. Does that distinction make sense? Hope so.

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on July 24, 2003 02:27 PM
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