Issue No. 221 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting highlights a timely book for my U.S. readers as we approach the 4th of July. Timely--because, hmmm, Egypt is next to Libya...and Congress and the President disagree...and, oh yes, an election is coming. If you think you have it tough, read this hot-off-the-press book on President Eisenhower. And this reminder: check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
Ike’s White-knuckle Crisis
OK. I know this is a stretch to cajole you into reading a book about a dead president. But hang with me a minute—and let me try.
Two-term U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in his memoirs that “October 20, 1956 was the start of the most crowded and demanding three weeks of my entire presidency.” And according to author David Nichols, “During this period, Eisenhower embodied the wisdom of his preachment that ‘plans are worthless but planning is everything,’ enabling him to ‘do the normal thing when everyone else is going nuts.’”
There’s one big reason you should read this book: crisis management (The Crisis Bucket). Nichols summarizes this stunning account—and Eisenhower himself—on the book’s last page with this one-liner, “By any standard, his was a virtuoso presidential performance—an enduring model for effective crisis management.”
Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis—Suez and the Brink of War is unlike any book I’ve read. It covers mostly one year, 1956, with the greatest focus on Ike’s most demanding three weeks of his presidency. (I study leaders. Ike was a leader, not just a general.)
For starters—have you ever had a couple of weeks like this?
--Eisenhower couldn’t convince Congress to use foreign aid to fund Egypt’s proposed Aswan Dam project, so after a soft commitment to Egypt’s President Nasser, Ike pulled the plug on the deal.
--In response, Egypt’s President Nasser nationalizes the Suez Canal.
--Oops! Western Europe is almost totally dependent on the flow of oil through the canal (with oil reserves of just 15 to 30 days).
--Ike’s best friends—Britain and France, the nations he rescued in World War II—plotted secretly and devised clever smoke screens to keep the U.S. not just ill-informed but misinformed about their intentions. Read: bald-faced lies!
--Britain, France and Israel go to war against Egypt.
--Ike refuses to provide cover to his double-dealing, deceptive friends, and suggested they “be left to burn in their own oil.”
--At one point, commenting on the flurry of cables between London and Washington, he quipped that it had turned into a “trans-Atlantic essay contest.”
Oh…and did I mention: The President had a heart attack on a trip in the fall of 1955, requiring seven weeks off in Denver, and then more surgery later in 1956 for a cancerous tumor the doctors and staff had kept from him.
Doctors told him to take it easy—and in that we get a humorous picture of Ike. He wrote a friend that he had been ordered “to avoid all situations that tend to bring about such reactions as irritation, frustration, anxiety, fear and, above all anger.” So he had snapped at the doctors, “Just what do you think the presidency is?”
Yet, he decides he’s healthy enough to run for a second term; Adlai Stevenson, his opponent, disagrees. Often. And quite publically!
“The real reason a President wants to run again,” suggested aide Sherman Adams, “is because he doesn’t think anybody else can do as good a job as he’s doing.”
Oops! Then during the campaign, the Soviet Union hustles tanks into Hungary.
So whatever your current leadership or management crisis is (you’ve had some doozies and will continue to have them), you gotta admit…it ain’t as challenging as Ike’s crises in 1956. At one point he whined to his personal secretary, Ann Whitman, “why anyone would want such a job as that of the President.”
If you’re not a history buff or a dead presidents buff, you may find the first half of the book slow-going, even tedious perhaps—but the beauty of this one-year historical feast is the author’s amazing quilt of quotations he threads together from newly released sources like the top secret minutes of the National Security Council and Oval Office meetings.
But keep reading, because when Nichols (a former prof and academic dean) hits Ike’s three most demanding weeks of his life, it’s a page-turner—and I don’t use that phrase lightly. The crisis management insights and best practices are served up on almost every page.
His campaign buttons announced, “I LIKE IKE.” Ditto. I was so sad when page 286 arrived that I even read the “Acknowledgments,” hoping for another crumb or two. I got ‘em!
To order this book from Amazon, click on the graphic below for Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis—Suez and the Brink of War, by David A. Nichols.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) On addressing Ike’s response to the Soviet occupation of Hungary, the author writes, “This was standard Eisenhower doctrine, to give an opponent an escape hatch from a confrontation that could escalate into great conflict.” Think of your last crisis—did it escalate unnecessarily?
2) Nichols writes, “Eisenhower had long ago perfected the art of embracing a messianic mission and making it sound like a simple soldier’s call to duty.” Does our organization have a big vision—and is it stated simply enough?
Top-10 Customer Hunches - Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
One of the big ideas in the Customer Bucket, Chapter 2, in Mastering the Management Buckets is to learn how your customers will change.
Try a stand-up meeting. With bagels.
“OK. For the next 20 minutes, we’re going to fill this flipchart with all of our best guesses on how our primary customer (per Peter Drucker’s definition) will change in the next 36 months.
“Then, we’ll vote for the 10 most likely changes and assign people to do some in-the-trenches customer research to discern if our hunches are accurate. We’re going to do something very, very radical this month: talk to our customers!”
For more resources from the Customer Bucket, including 10 book recommendations, visit the Customer Bucket webpage.
--Sept. 17, 2011 (Saturday) – Nonprofit Board Governance Workshop, Town and Country Manor, Santa Ana, Calif.
--Sept. 27-28, 2011 (Tues. & Wed.) – Mastering the Management Buckets Workshop Experience, Orange County, Calif.