A young general who had not yet seen war, Eisenhower knew that Marshall was trying to test his ability to handle greater responsibility, so he asked for a few hours to formulate his response.
Eisenhower considered everything he knew about Marshall, a man who hated generalities, flashy oratory and empty promises.
When Eisenhower returned, he replied simply that America’s first duty was to support its allies in the Pacific theater.
“They may excuse failure,” Eisenhower said, “but they will not excuse abandonment.”
“I agree with you,” Marshall answered. “Do your best to save them.”
Ike’s focused reply won him a role in World War II. It was a correct response, but also one that fit the preferences of the man who would hear it.
—Adapted from Eisenhower on Leadership: Ike’s Enduring Lessons in Total Victory , Alan Axelrod, Jossey-Bass.