Leadership and Respect

There is no such thing as human superiority.”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

On a crisp autumn day at West Point as Eisenhower was walking to one of his third year classes he collided with a plebe who was running to carry out an order.  Although he wasn’t prone to participate in the hazing that occurred there, this time he made an exception. Collecting himself, Eisenhower sarcastically asked the plebe “Mr. Dungard, what is your previous condition of servitude? You look like a barber.”  The plebe responded meekly, “I was a barber, sir.”

Eisenhower was embarrassed. He didn’t say anything else to the plebe, and he went back to his room where he told his roommate, P.A. Hodgson, “I’m never going to crawl [haze] another plebe as long as I live. As a matter of fact, they’ll have to run over and knock me out of the company street before I’ll make any attempt again. I’ve just done something that was stupid and unforgivable. I managed to make a man ashamed of the work he did to earn a living.” Decades later it still bothered him that he didn’t apologize to the plebe for his rude behavior, but he learned a lesson that he took with him for the rest of his life – to respect each and every individual. “I learned the wickedness of arrogance and the embarrassment that can come about by the lack of consideration for others.” [1]

To get respect, you must give respect. Eisenhower was well known for not “engaging in personalities” – a phrase for his belief that it was always wrong to criticize a person’s motives or personality  regardless of the circumstances and the temptation to respond in kind. As President Eisenhower once told a speechwriter to strike out the word “deliberate” in a public statement because it amounted to an attack on a person. “When you said deliberate, what he had done, you were attacking his motives. Never, ever, attack a person’s motives” [2]

Respect and gratitude towards those who guide and follow you is also a trait among the greatest leaders. As rumors swirled regarding who would be appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Europe, Eisenhower was simply grateful to be in his existing role. Harry Butcher wrote “I have heard Ike speak of his gratitude to General Marshall, to the President, and to the country for the opportunity he has been given” as Allied Commander of the North African campaign. Eisenhower thought he “was the logical yet lucky choice” to lead the North African initiative. [3]

Eisenhower also had deep respect for the American citizen soldier. He enjoyed his assignments to train the troops, and as a commander he went to visit them as often as possible. “The trained American possesses qualities that are almost unique. Because of his initiative and resourcefulness, his adaptability to change and his readiness to resort to expedient, he becomes, when he has attained a proficiency in all the normal techniques of battle, a most formidable soldier. Yet even he has his limits; the preservation of his individual and collective strength is one of the greatest responsibilities of leadership.” [4]

[1] Eisenhower, At Ease, 17-1
[2] 25th Anniversary Reunion of the Staff of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, processed booklet, 1979, p.11.
[3] Butcher, My Three Years,  452
[4] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 453

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