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Eisenhower’s toughest decision

by on
in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

On June 2, 1944, all the pieces were in place for the largest amphibious assault in world history, referred to as “Operation Overlord” at the time and later known as D-Day. Planning fell to Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower.

An ideal window of time—June 5 to 7—had been identified as having the best moonlight, an early sunrise and low tide. The only unknown? The weather.

Ike set a tentative date, June 5, for the launch of the operation.

By June 3, though, Capt. J.M. Stagg, the meteorologist, announced that a series of depressions were moving in from the west, bringing overcast skies, high winds, and low cloud cover. It was a forecast “potentially full of menace,” said Stagg.

Ike barely slept that night.

The next day, June 4, Ike’s team was split on the June 5 invasion. Ike made the call: He postponed the operation by 24 hours.

He spent the day worrying. If they didn’t launch the attack, troops would have to wait at least 14 days or perhaps 28 to try again. And secrecy could be lost during the delay.

But if Ike gave the green light to D-Day during bad weather conditions, it could mean thousands of lives lost and a weakened Allied effort.

Then good news came on the night of June 5: The rains would soon break, and better weather would return for a 36-hour window. But cloudy conditions would prevail, and the window of good weather could close at any moment, meaning some troops wouldn’t make it ashore.

Ike would need to make a decision within the hour. Somehow, he found the strength to quietly say, “OK, let’s go.” He realized he had all the information he was ever going to have.

How did he make one of the most consequential decisions in history?

“If I let anybody, any of my commanders, think that maybe things weren’t going to work out, that I was afraid, they’d be afraid too,” he later said. “I didn’t dare. I had to have the confidence. I had to make them believe that everything was going to work.”

— Adapted from “Leadership Lessons from Dwight D. Eisenhower #3: How to Make an Important Decision,” Brett and Kate McKay, The Art of Manliness.

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