Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Art of Persuasion

Yesterday, I taught a group of executives a case study about a friendly fire accident in the military that took place in 1994 (based on Scott Snook's incredible book).  Interestingly, many people have a caricature in mind when they think about the military.   They think that commanders can simply give orders and expect everyone to follow them.   In their minds, executives think, "We have it much harder in the business world.  We can't just order folks around."   However, executives would be wrong to think in this manner.  Even military commanders have to persuade.

Stephen Ambrose wrote the following about General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“Although none of his immediate superiors or subordinates seemed to realize it, Eisenhower could not afford to be a table-thumper. With Montgomery’s prestige, power, and personality, for example, had Eisenhower stormed into his headquarters, banged his fist on the table, and shouted out a series of demands, his actions could have been disastrous.” 

Interestingly, Eisenhower reflected in his writings about where he had learned about the necessity of persuasion. He described what he had learned from General Fox Conner, one of his mentors, under whom he first served in the early 1920s. Eisenhower wrote:

“He (Conner) laid great stress in his instruction to me on what he called the ‘art of persuasion.’ Since no foreigner could be given outright administrative command of troops of another nation, they would have to be coordinated very closely, and this needed persuasion. He would get out a book of applied psychology and we would talk it over.” (Source: Jean Edward Smith)

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