Dwight Eisenhower - Don't Push The Chain



A few years ago Bob Davids gave this brilliant 12-minute TED talk on leadership. In it he provides a great illustration of what leadership looks like which I’ve transcribed the short story below:

In WWII, Dwight Eisenhower was the allied supreme commander of all the forces. He would train his generals, he would take a chain and stack it up on the table. Then he would ask the generals, “If I push that chain, which way will it go?” and he would hear a lot of answers.

The correct answer is you really don’t know.

But he said that, “If I took the chain and I picked it up by the end and I pulled the chain, which way will it go? The answer is it will follow you.” And there is the essence of leadership.

If you push the people [horse], down deep inside, you really do not know which way they’ll go or what they’re really thinking. But if you can lead them and get them to follow you, then you have the skill everyone should have, which is to be a leader.

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Great discussion… on a much, much more elementary level, I observed (learned) early on in life on the farm that it’s easier to lead the animals to the barn than it is to push them. It only takes one person to lead, but it takes many more to push. As I was coming up through business, I’d mention this simple observation to others and they’d mostly scoff. That was usually when I knew I had the wrong team member and I’d begin making adjustments.