When you think of charismatic leaders, Dwight D. Eisenhower may not top your list. Unlike General George Patton, Eisenhower was not known for his dashing style and motivational speeches. He wasn’t famous for his ability to rally the troops. As president, he never had a nickname like “The Great Communicator.”
Yet whether as commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II or as serving two terms as president of the United States, Eisenhower was known for one outstanding trait. He got results. Eisenhower successfully led the alliance that liberated western Europe from Nazi tyranny. He ended the Korean War. He oversaw the creation of the Interstate Highway System.
While Truman was known for the slogan “the buck starts here”, Eisenhower had a different approach. On his desk sat an ornament bearing the motto, “Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re.” (Gently in manner, strong in deed.)
When considering your leadership style or personality, it’s easy to fall prey to the thinking that you’ve got to be charismatic and extroverted. We all know leaders who get their way through the sheer force of their personality. There’s nothing wrong with being extroverted or charismatic. But there’s also nothing wrong with being introverted and calm. Effective leadership is not about how loud you can holler. It’s about how well you can get positive things done.
Eisenhower was a sheer genius at understanding people. He could see how a flamboyant personality like Patton would make a great tank commander to lead the Allied breakout from Normandy, just as he could see how a mild-mannered Omar Bradley would make an excellent general to lead the troops and keep Patton’s excesses in check.
Eisenhower used those same skills to exercise strong influence in a behind-the-scenes manner while guiding legislation through Congress. Contrary to his public persona, Eisenhower possessed a strong knowledge of the matter at hand. When aides thought he spent the morning golfing, he would astound them with knowledge of a bill he read in its entirety the night before.
If you are a leader who lights up the room with your presence, then glory! You’ve got a major asset. But if you’re a person who waits until everyone else has spoken before stating your opinion, don’t worry. The first dog that barks isn’t always on the right trail.
If you’re an introverted leader, don’t try to change your personality because it won’t work. Let the extroverts have their moment. They are wired to speak first and speak often. However, use your personality to an advantage. Study your facts and know your stuff. Become the person that when you speak, others listen.
Also, become a student of people. The military brass in World War II wrote Patton off as a big mouth unwilling to follow orders. Yet, Eisenhower saw Patton as someone who through his very personality and skills could improvise victory against the Germans in the open field.
Know your stuff and know the people around you. Use insightfulness to your advantage. Live so that you will be remembered not for your force of personality, but for your positive contributions to your world.