Leadership Lessons From D-Day

Today marks the 70th Anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Europe, otherwise known as D-Day. The invasion was the pivotal moment for the European theater in World War II. The Allied Forces were able to secure a western front against Germany and within a year defeat the Nazi regime. Twenty years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Normandy, France where the brave men of D-Day landed on June 6, 1944. As a young man I was overcome with emotion as I walked the cliffs, through the cemeteries, and on the beaches where so many fought and lost their life. I remember crying for the first time because of something someone else had done for me, my country, and the world. It was not just what they did, but the magnitude of the challenge, the difficulty of the conditions, and the bravery that was required that day in order to secure the beaches for a full scale invasion.

This week I reflected on my experience in Normandy and on the massive invasion that occurred on D-Day 1944. In my reflection time, I asked myself, "What leadership lessons can I learn from this moment in history and from the key individuals involved in the events of that day?" Here are ten leadership lessons I identified as I reflected on D-Day.

Lessons From The Top Leaders:

  • Leaders must have a clearly defined vision and purpose that everyone on their team knows, understands, and believes in pursuing.
  • Leaders must take the time to plan and prepare prior to acting when the stakes are high and there is significant risk involved.
  • Leaders must equip their teams with the resources, skills, and talent required to fulfill their vision.

Lesson From Mid-Level Leaders on the Ground:

  • Leaders must be respected by the people they lead. Their team members must believe in them, trust them, and admire them.
  • Leaders must be able to adapt to change and unforeseen challenges. They must be able to assess what the situation requires and adapt as needed.
  • Leaders must clearly define the short term mission and provide role clarity for every team member under their care.

Lessons From the Leaders on the Front Line:

  • Leaders must be courageous and not paralyzed by fear of the unknown or the difficulty of their task.
  • Leaders must persevere no matter what tries to take them off their task of completing the mission.
  • Leaders must create a bond of friendship, trust, and loyalty with their peers. They must be willing to sacrifice for each other, defend each other, and encourage each other.

As I traveled through the small villages of Normandy I will never forget the kindness and appreciation the people living there showed to me. Elderly people told us "Thank you for what your country did for us!". Some restaurant owners refused to let us pay for our food. It was a memory I will never forget. Which brings me to my final leadership lesson from D-Day:

  • True leadership leaves a legacy. Long after the leader is gone, their actions, decisions, vision, and memory will live on.

The heroes of D-Day will forever be remembered by the people of France and especially the villages of Normandy. Their leadership, sacrifice, and courage saved lives and gave people hope again. This is a legacy that will live on forever as long we continue to remember and tell the story of D-Day June 6, 1944.

Thank you to the men (leaders) of D-Day! We honor you today.

Coach Dan