As Supreme Allied Commander and later as President of the United States, no one was more accustomed to having their orders followed than Dwight Eisenhower. Yet Eisenhower located true executive leadership in what he called the Power of Persuasion. "The essence of leadership," he said, "is to get others to do something because they know it is worth doing."
In 1965, four years out of the Presidency, Eisenhower contributed an article to Reader's Digest called "What Is Leadership?" that was, in part, a eulogy for Winston Churchill. To leadership attributes of courage, fortitude, humility, and hard work, Eisenhower added:
Power of Persuasion. A trait always noticeable in a successful leader is [the] ability to persuade others. There are times, of course, when every leader must make a decision and see that it is carried out regardless of what others may think. But whenever [people] can be persuaded rather than ordered - when they can be made to feel that they have participated in developing the plan - they approach their tasks with understanding and enthusiasm.
Prime Minister Churchill was a persuader. Indeed, his skill in the use of words and logic was so great that on several occasions when he and I disagreed on some important matter - even when I was convinced of the correctness of my own view and when the responsibility was clearly mine - I had a very hard time withstanding his arguments. More than once he forced me to reexamine my own premises, to convince myself again that I was right - or accept his solution. Yet if the decision went against him, he accepted it with good grace, and did everything in his power to support it with proper action. Leadership by persuasion and the wholehearted acceptance of a contrary decision are both fundamentals of democracy.
Of course, few people in history have the leadership responsibilities of an Eisenhower or a Churchill. But the lesson of leadership through persuasion has guided us in building our public speaking curriculum for corporate executives, senior officials, and hundreds of other professionals.
Interested in learning these skills?
(This post is thanks to the late great Colonel Bill Taylor.)