RISKS OF LEADERSHIP The anniversary of D-Day, June 6, passed with little notice. On that day over 160,000 troops stormed the shores of Normandy, France in an effort to push back the Nazis and gain a foothold.
Most of us have seen the movie “Saving Private Ryan” which opens with American soldiers on the beaches. I’ve interviewed veterans who were there that have attested the film’s accuracy. Some couldn’t sit through the opening scenes. Too many memories.
Today that area on the French coast has several vast cemeteries. The American cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, contains rows of identical white crosses and Stars of David commemorating the 9,387 American dead.
The American general who ordered the invasion was Dwight Eisenhower, who would later be elected our 34th president. The military offensive was a huge gamble against a foe that had an aura of invincibility.
On the eve of the invasion, Eisenhower prepared for the worst. He drafted a statement to release if D-Day failed and he was forced to withdraw the troops:
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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.”
Fortunately, he never had to give that speech. The Normandy invasion was the turning point of World War II. However, the hand-written statement is preserved in the National Archives.
What stands out to me is Eisenhower’s willingness to take full responsibility for the failure. He didn’t point the finger at his commanders or the soldiers. He didn’t blame the weather or rough seas.
“If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
That is leadership. Eisenhower was willing to take a huge risk to win the war. The cost of human life would be great. The chances for failure were very real. Yet, he made the decision to proceed, knowing that history might brand him a failure if he was forced to order retreat.
Leadership requires risks. It demands accountability regardless of the outcomes.
Leadership is not perception, press releases and photo ops. It’s not cute comments on a Facebook page by a hired hand pretending to be the leader.
The City of Pensacola needs leadership.