Eisenhower’s Leadership by Walking Around

“In the Army, whenever I became fed up with meetings, protocol, and paperwork, I could rehabilitate myself by a visit with the troops.”                                                                                    

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Perhaps the most important relationship Eisenhower had during his military career was with his troops. ”A human understanding and a natural ability to mingle with all men on a basis of equality are more important than any degree of technical skill,” he wrote in his war memoir. [1]

Eisenhower practiced leadsership by walking around long before it was a trendy management term. He would make many trips to visit the troops, which always lifted his spirits. Among the troops, “talking to each other as individuals, and listening to each other’s stories,” Eisenhower wrote, “ I was refreshed and could return to headquarters reassured that, hidden behind administrative entanglements, the military was an enterprise manned by human beings.” [2]

His easy-going style would allow him to socialize with the men in an informal manner, and he was able to converse with many of the soldiers as they discussed their lives back home and winning the war. Eisenhower sincerely enjoyed being with his troops. He told his wife Mamie, “our soldiers are wonderful. It always seems to me that the closer to the front the better the morale and the less grumbling.  No one knows how I like to roam around among them – I’m always cheered up by a day with the actual fighters.”

Eisenhower visiting with troops

Eisenhower felt he had a special relationship with his troops. Despite numerous informal visits to the field, he always had something new to say to the men – he rarely repeated himself. He had an easy ability to communicate with any soldier, and an intuitive ability to ask just the right questions to create immediate trust and respect, regardless of what they did in the service or civilian life. [3]

D-Day training began in December 1943 with “a series of exercises … held at brigade, divisional, and corps level. Final rehearsals were held in late April and early May [of 1944] in the south of England. Activities included the concentration, marshaling, and embarkation of troops, a short movement by water, disembarkation, variation with naval and air support, each assault using service ammunition, the securing of a beachhead, and a rapid advance inland.” The exercises were meant to closely simulate the beach landings, and Eisenhower would often travel to the training facilities because it gave him an “excellent opportunity to see his troops in action and to find errors which would need elimination before D Day.” [4]

He believed many of the troops possessed “a great amount of ingenuity and initiative.” If they could communicate to their officers without restraint “the products of their resourcefulness become available to all.” This would also lead to “mutual confidence, a feeling of partnership that is the essence of esprit de corps. An army fearful of its officers is never as good as one that trusts and confides in its leaders.”

One afternoon Eisenhower visited with several hundred Infantrymen on the front. He was standing with them on a muddy hillside and when he turned to leave his legs flipped right out from under him and he fell flat on his back. “From the shout of laughter that went up I am quite sure that no other meeting I had with soldiers during the war was a greater success than that one. Even the men who rushed forward to help pick me up out of the” mud could barely contain their laughter. [5]

[1] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 210
[2] Eisenhower, At Ease, 243
[3] D’ Este, Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life, 514
[4] Pogue, Supreme Command, 166
[5] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 314

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