Eisenhower as a leader

Some historians have seen Dwight Eisenhower as a great general but a mediocre president. But in his new book on Eisenhower as president Jean Edward Smith asserts that, apart from Franklin Roosevelt, Ike was ‘the most successful president of the 20th century.

Eisenhower’s views on leadership according to Smith can be put briefly:

they amount to achieving one’s ends without corrupting them.

While ends are potentially infinite, Eisenhower knew means can never be.

The task of leaders (is) to deploy means in such a way as to avoid doing too little, which risks defeat, but also too much, which risks exhaustion. Failure can come either way.

Exhaustion, the author notes, was the problem in World War I, in which the costs on all sides allowed no decisive outcome.

(From John Lewis Gaddis’ review of Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith). That set me to thinking how Christian leaders – and Christian ministries – may seek great Kingdom ends but become burnet-out cases.

Perhaps we have not taken seriously both parts of Jesus’ invitation to his leaders:

Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-laden. Take my yoke … learn from me …and you will find rest for your soul

Kingdom ends and Kingdom means must match. Otherwise we can seek to win the world and lose our own souls.

That’s why when young leaders come for a retreat, weary from their work in the Kingdom harvest, I often quote lines from the farmer-poet Wendell Berry:

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.


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