Friday Forward – History’s Victors
The following is courtesy of Robert Glazer’s Friday Forward post on June 18, 2021.
When the history books chronicle the last two years, we will learn about many crucial decisions that were made. We’ll see how many lives were saved with heroic and bold actions, and how some were lost because of decisions scuttled by incorrect assumptions, politics, misinterpreted data or even just poor timing.
As is often the case, these decisions will be evaluated with the benefit of hindsight, which is always a 20/20 lens. There will be an impulse to give more credit or blame than these decision-makers actually deserve, without factoring in the limited information available at the time, the impact of timing, or just plain old luck.
As a result, history will likely permanently enshrine or condemn many of the leaders who made these challenging and often real-time decisions. History is written by the victors.
Two weeks ago, we commemorated the 77th anniversary of D-Day, the landing of the Allied forces in Normandy during World War II. The mission, one of the most important battles in history, was led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose leadership on that day propelled him to venerated status and, eventually, the American Presidency.
Before the invasion, Eisenhower gave a now-famous speech to his troops to lift their spirits and display his confidence in a victory. In the speech, he remarked:
“Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
“I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!”
Reading this today, Eisenhower appeared certain his forces would prevail. But what is often left untold in history is that Eisenhower also wrote a second note the night he delivered his speech, which became known as the “In Case of Failure Letter.” The letter’s full text read:
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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.”
Had just a few things gone differently on D-Day, Eisenhower’s “In Case of Failure Letter,” and not his speech, may have been the defining moment of his legacy. Nothing about the circumstances, Eisenhower’s leadership or his preparation for D-Day would have changed, but his story would have certainly been told very differently.
Eisenhower’s example offers a few key takeaways, nearly eight decades later:
- Great leaders give their teams credit for success and take sole responsibility for failure. This is a rare skill today. Many leaders, especially politicians, love the credit but hate the accountability. However, these are two sides of the same flipped coin.
- When evaluating decisions through the lens of history, we should ask: Was it a good or bad choice based on the available data at the time? Some people are celebrated for making decisions that worked out in their favor but would fail a vast majority of the time if repeated. Those lucky outcomes aren’t the decisions we want to emulate.
- We need to judge our own past successes and failures more objectively. We tend to believe that our achievements are due to our intelligence and smart decision-making, while ascribing others’ successes to luck and timing. What if the opposite is true? We should rethink those assumptions more often to avoid hubris and overconfidence.
It’s rare for us to scrutinize decisions that yield a positive outcome as rigorously as we consider the ones that do not. However, re-examining some our successful choices can often produce helpful learnings.
Leadership depends upon making tough decisions based on the best information available and understanding and owning the consequences of those decisions. It also requires realizing that the difference between making the right choice and the wrong one might have more to do with luck or timing than preparation and judgment, while knowing history will rarely view it that way.
About Robert Glazer:
Bob Glazer is the founder and CEO of global partner marketing agency, Acceleration Partners.Under Robert’s leadership. He is also the co-founder and Chairman of BrandCycle. A serial entrepreneur, Bob has a passion for helping individuals and organizations build their capacity to elevate.
Acceleration Partners has become a recognized global leader in the affiliate and partner marketing industry, receiving numerous industry and company culture awards.
Bob was also named to Glassdoor’s list of Top CEO of Small and Medium Companies in the US, ranking #2.
Bob shares his ideas and insights via Friday Forward, a popular weekly inspirational newsletter that reaches over 100,000 individuals and business leaders across 50+ countries. He is the host of the Elevate Podcast, where Bob sits down with leaders, thinkers and authors to discuss personal growth and helping others live their best lives. Bob is also the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and international bestselling author of four books: Elevate, Friday Forward, Performance Partnerships and How To Make Virtual Teams Work.
A regular columnist for Forbes, Inc. and Entrepreneur, Bob’s writing reaches over five million people around the globe each year who resonate with his topics, which range from performance marketing and entrepreneurship to company culture, capacity building, hiring and leadership. Worldwide, he is also a sought-after speaker by companies and organizations, especially on subjects related to business growth, culture, mindful transitions, building capacity and performance. Bob’s website can be found at: https://www.robertglazer.com/