As a history buff, certain dates stick in my mind and prompt reflection when they roll around. I first learned about D-Day when they showed The Longest Day, the now classic film, during our lunchtime movie club in middle school. Since then I have watched many other movies about it and read dozens of books. Most of the books recount the “heroic” decisions made by the senior officers; most of the movies center on the bravery of the troops under fire.
Those who write “make” history; too often the messy front line details are only passed down verbally or through second-hand accounts over an adult beverage or two. The example I often remind people of is Thomas Jefferson. After the British destroyed the Library of Congress, it was replaced by purchasing the third president’s personal collection of books. The founding father and author of the Declaration of Independence was notoriously thin-skinned and only collected books that spoke favorably of him. Future historians researching contemporary sources in the Library of Congress found a mostly positive rating on Jefferson as a result.
While this situation is a good example of why everyone should write a memoir, I mention it now to emphasize the importance of “point of view” in evaluating any historical account. You will not, for example, find any acknowledgement in Jefferson’s clipping collection of Martha Washington’s opinion that he was the worst house guest she ever had.
But my topic for today is once again leadership. It is certainly important to have brave and visionary people at the top of the chain of command. But a great battle plan is worthless without well-trained and confident leaders further down the ranks. Things got very messy on D-Day; landing craft did not stay in their lanes, navigation was faulty, and losses were heavy. Success was only possible because of the determination of the people being shot at to make it on to that beach and end the war. With non-coms barely out of their teens, the invading forces improvised and endured to secure a foothold. Then they built on that foothold.
I worked with many WWII vets early in my career. They incorporated that “can-do” attitude into their civilian work life and, by example, taught “the kids” to persevere when deadlines got tight and things did not go completely according to the plan. The few “company histories” that get written tend to omit the contributions of the blue collar workers in the shop. As a wise old vet once told me, “We get to sit at a desk because those guys are making chips and building the things we dream up. Customers do not pay for daydreams.” Try to keep that in mind when you walk through your shop.