People often ask me about resolving conflicts and how to handle them as a leader.
This clip shows Eisenhower, played by Tom Selleck, handling a conflict two days before D-Day. It’s dramatized, but not so much that we can’t learn from it.
Eisenhower and his team have been planning the Normandy invasion for months. They want to launch in the next couple days, but two major unknowns split to leaders on one aspect. The unknowns are the weather and the German army’s preparations. The decision is whether to drop the elite paratroopers and gliders behind enemy lines the night before the amphibious invasion.
Hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance. There is no way to decrease the uncertainty.
Using these troops to attack German beach fortifications from behind would distract them and help the landing troops. If the weather is bad and the Germans prepared, these elite units could be slaughtered for no gain and then be unavailable later in the war.
The American General represents the landing troops. The British represents the airborne troops. Everyone wants the invasion to succeed. They all know the stakes. They differ in tactics.
What I saw that worked
I saw Eisenhower use a few effective leadership techniques we could all use in conflicts even when the fate of the world doesn’t hand in the balance.
He made the people you lead feel understood, especially after the conflict
He listens to them before having to choose. More importantly, when he explains his choice he shows each person that he understood their interest.
I can’t stress this enough. When people feel they aren’t understood or listened to, they push back and try to explain themselves until they feel understood or give up, which loses your credibility.
You can support someone for having a belief without sharing that belief. People often feel more supported, and therefore more open to your leadership and influence, for supporting them as a person while not their beliefs.
He explained his reasoning
By explaining his reasoning, Eisenhower depersonalizes his choice. You feel as if he chose what circumstances made the only choice. This way of stating things makes others not feel personal about it, nor hold him personal for it.
This way makes the person whose option he didn’t pick more likely to stay feeling a part of the team, thinking something like, “He didn’t pick my option this time, but he might the next time. I just have to keep doing my best.”
He shared its importance and his vulnerability
Eisenhower’s emotional statement that it was the toughest decision he ever had to make shows vulnerability and support for the team, in particular the person with the unchosen option.
He put the team into action once the decision was made
Once you choose based on the best information you can get, you know nothing will inform you better, and you have to move forward, reflection and second-guessing don’t help. Your team has a common goal. Nothing will make them perform more effectively and productively than to have them act on their passion—in this case saving lives while defending Europe. Eisenhower tells his man to go over every detail a thousand times—protect your men while making them effective. Put into action on an already-made decision, he’ll focus on doing his job effectively, not second-guessing the choice or undermining the team. He’s focused on doing the job.