Balancing Danger and Discouragement

By November 1, 2019Leadership

It is June, 1944, and the largest military operation in history is about to begin. There are over 5,000 ships and 156,000 soldiers about to storm the beaches of Normandy, France.

If you’re familiar with history, then you know we’re talking about D-Day.

Not long before the start of the invasion, General Dwight Eisenhower wrote a letter addressed to the “Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces.” In the letter, he described the grand purpose of their endeavor and the importance of their mission.

It’s what you would expect from a General who is about to send 156,000 people into harms’ way. But it wasn’t all that he wrote.

He also didn’t want to mislead them:

“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.”

Was Eisenhower trying to discourage his troops? Of course not! But he did want them to be prepared for the reality of what they would face.

Imagine if they thought everything was going to be easy. The enemy would just roll over, not firing a single shot. Everything would be over in just a few days.

Failing to warn them of the danger would have been more than poor leadership – it would have been a disaster.

As leaders, there are many times when we must balance danger and discouragement. We have to rally the troops without giving false hope or casting an unrealistic expectation of ease. At the same time, we cannot create so much discouragement that it leads to inaction or despair.

As author Jim Collins says, we must be able to “confront the brutal facts” of our situation. As he points out, the most de-motivating leadership tactic is to hold out false hopes that never materialize.

Eisenhower communicated three things to his troops:

  1. I believe in you.
  2. This is not going to be easy.
  3. We will get through this.

The rest, as they say, is history.

What has been your experience trying to balance danger and discouragement?

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