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The Art of Bumming Cigarettes- Eisenhower’s Leadership in Action

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One of my favorite leadership stories involves General Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II. Eisenhower tried to schedule his days as the Supreme Commander so that he could spend the mornings in meetings and around his headquarters dealing with the challenges of the largest military undertaking in the history of the world. But he would then free up his schedule in the afternoons so that he could visit as many of the units that were under his command as was possible. The brilliance of his leadership can be perceived from the following anecdote.

Eisenhower was a man of his times, and as such he was a smoker, as were many of the soldiers in his command (cigarettes were issued to troops on a regular basis in those days.) A practice that Eisenhower undertook at the time was to not bring any cigarettes with him as he would go about and talk to the troops. This created a challenge for him that he would solve by bumming cigarettes off of the soldiers. This did two things for the soldiers; 1) the soldiers realized that General Eisenhower was human and they were more than happy to be the man that gave the Commanding General a cigarette, and 2) they would then later share this story with other soldiers and friends and families in letters, building the reputation of the General as a leader that was liked and respected by the troops.

General Eisenhower received something far more valuable than the cigarettes, and that was feedback from the troops. While they were talking with Eisenhower the soldiers would willingly share their perspective of the war. Were they getting the proper equipment and clothing? Was the morale of the soldiers high and were they ready for the upcoming travails they were going to face? What Eisenhower was doing was keeping his finger on the pulse of his organization and learning from those on the ground what was working and what was not working – a great example of LeadershipFlow in action from a great leader.

As you read this, what are your thoughts on General Eisenhower’s leadership and this anecdote? What aspects of leadership does it invoke in you? What stories of leadership do you have to share? Please share with us your LeadershipFlow Tidbits for future blogs.@croftedwards

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