ADF Leadership, the Australian Defence Force (ADF), Philosophical Doctrine, 2021, articulates ten ADF Leadership Principles. These principles as a ‘guide for self-assessment’ are ‘useful… as we each develop our leadership skills.’[1] The ten ADF Leadership Principles are:[2]

  1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement.
  2. Be proficient.
  3. Seek and accept responsibility.
  4. Lead by example.
  5. Provide direction and keep your team informed.
  6. Know and care for your people.
  7. Develop the potential of your people.
  8. Make sound and timely decisions.
  9. Build the team and challenge their abilities.
  10. Communicate effectively.

The purpose of this article is to apply ideas from How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower's Biggest Decisions, written by Susan Eisenhower granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, against the ten ADF Leadership Principles.

A brief summary of Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, 1953-1961. Eisenhower, the third of seven sons, was born in Texas in 1890 and raised in Abilene, Kansas. In 1915, he graduated from the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. Eisenhower married Mamie Geneva Doud in 1916. The Eisenhowers were parents of two sons, Doud and John.[3]

Prior to World War II, Eisenhower excelled as a staff officer, serving with Generals Fox Conner (Panama), John J. Pershing (Western Europe), Douglas MacArthur (Philippines), and Walter Krueger (Louisiana Manoeuvres).[4]

After Pearl Harbor, 07 December 1941, General George C. Marshall posted Eisenhower to the US Army’s war plans division in Washington, DC. Later, Eisenhower commanded the Allied Forces landing in North Africa in November 1942. On D-Day, 06 June 1944, he was Supreme Allied Commander in the European Theatre of Operations.[5]

After World War II, Eisenhower was appointed President of Columbia University. He then took leave, 1951-1952, to serve as the inaugural Supreme Allied Commander Europe in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.[6]

In January 1961, after completing his second term as President of the United States, Eisenhower retired to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There he wrote several books, including his two volume memoirs. Dwight D. Eisenhower died on 28 March 1969, after a long illness.

Applying ideas from How Ike Led against the ten ADF Leadership Principles

Principle 1 – Know yourself and seek self-improvement. Self-reflect to know your own values, strengths and weaknesses. Knowing yourself helps you to understand how your behaviour affects others. It is an avenue for you to improve your ability to influence, to motivate, to inspire. Take any criticism well, use it to grow.[7]

In knowing himself and seeking self-improvement, Eisenhower developed a 'growing sense of duty… from his training at West Point.' He later recalled that when he took the oath of office as a West Point cadet, 'a feeling came over me that the expression, 'United States of America' would now and henceforth mean something different than it ever had before. From here on, it would be the nation I would be serving, not myself.'[8]

In 1950, attempting to know his own values, strengths and weaknesses, Eisenhower wrote:

'My basic purpose is to try, however feebly, to return to the nation some portion of the debt I owe. My family, my brothers and I, are examples of what this nation with its system of individual rights and freedoms… can do for its citizens.'[9]

Principle 2 – Be proficient. You must know your business. Your people expect your professional competence gained through formal training, on-the-job experience, critical thinking and lifelong self-improvement.[10] Repetitive, realistic, and challenging training creates common experiences that develop the teamwork, trust, and shared understanding that commanders need to lead and achieve unity of effort.[11]

As Supreme Allied Commander in the European Theatre of Operations, December 1943 – July 1945, Eisenhower’s proficiency was to 'strip down a problem to its essence, prioritise it among many and ensure that any plan reflected those factors in a coherent form, ready for execution.' Eisenhower’s 'decisions were undertaken with the entire enterprise in mind.'[12]

Eisenhower’s professional competence included his thinking on war:

'The principles of war are neither exclusive nor specialised. They are the principles of life which are fulfilled whenever an individual has a task or an objective to perform. Human nature is constant, as are the elements of political power, military power, economic power and morale… an army is not licked until it admits it.'[13]

Principle 3 – Seek and accept responsibility. Take responsibility to get the job done. According to your commander’s intent, maintain disciplined initiative and a bias for action. Accept responsibility for the actions of your team. When you make a mistake, accept fair criticism and take corrective action. Train and encourage your people to seek responsibility.[14]

In World War II, prior to ‘every major military operation for which Eisenhower had responsibility’ he wrote an 'in case of failure note’. For Normandy, 06 June 1944, Eisenhower’s ‘in case of failure note’ read:

'Our landings at the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to this attempt, it is mine alone.'[15]

This example exemplifies Eisenhower’s ‘willingness to take full and complete responsibility for his decisions – even though one of the most important variables, in this case the weather, was out of his control’.[16]

Eisenhower’s philosophy on making errors, included:

'…if an error is made, admit it in detail and spell it out so that it tells the complete story of the error, and then… show a plan for preventing the recurrence of such an error.

Then stand your ground. Be dignified but tough. Say it was an error. Say it won’t happen again and don’t say anything else.

[Finally]… don’t try to be cute or cover up. If you do, you will get so entangled you won’t know what you are doing.'[17]

Principle 4 – Lead by example. This is the most powerful aspect of leadership founded on competence, candour, commitment and courage. Maintain reliable patterns in your behaviour. Set professionally attainable standards. Serve with your team. If your team must go further, you go further. If your team works harder, you work harder. Without hesitation, you share the same demands and dangers as your team. Enable your team to reach their cultural, personal and professional potential.[18]

Eisenhower did not wear a helmet as the Supreme Allied Commander in the European Theatre of Operations, 1943-1945, ‘even though there were many times when he was very close to enemy lines.' Helmets were ‘a necessary part of the uniform for people in combat.' Common practice, and leading by example, mandate that Eisenhower dress as his troops dress.

However, Eisenhower took another view on leading by example. Out of respect for his fighting forces, Eisenhower refused a helmet because he ‘did not want to look like the guy who was trying to pretend he was assuming the risks unique to those who were engaged daily in the actual fight.'[19]

Principle 5 – Provide direction and keep your team informed. Your people must understand their task, purpose, standards and available resources, including time.[20] Enabling disciplined initiative requires a command climate of mutual trust, shared understanding and learning. In training  before committing to combat  leaders practice and learn to accept risk and underwrite the good-faith mistakes of their people. In turn, people practice and rehearse employing commander’s intent to define the limits within which they may exercise initiative.[21]

Eisenhower’s approach to providing direction to teams, included:

'A commander in a theatre of war has as their most difficult task the clarifying of their own convictions and conclusions. Once a commander has sorted out the conflicting promises and obstacles, they can pursue a simple line of action and devote themselves and their organisation to the one job of carrying on the execution of the decision.

Commanders run into strange personalities, weird ideas, glory seeking, enemy reaction, and all the other incidents of war. But a commander has a clear-cut path to follow, and they can carry on with a free mind and their full energy.

[Upon initiation of operations a commander must]… wheedle, demand, cajole, order, follow up, inspect, urge, listen and talk; the job is always clearly outlined in a commander’s own mind; however, so the burdens are lightened.'[22]

As President, Eisenhower further refined this idea, stating ‘the only way to make progress is compromise, conciliation and persuasion.'[23]

Principle 6 – Know and care for your people. Connect with your people. Commit time and effort to know your people through understanding what is important to them. Listen to them. Learn from them. Demonstrate care for people by joining their efforts, observing their successes, and rewarding their excellence. Enable mutual trust through shared confidence between your people and your teams based on: clearly communicated, understood and unified intent; fair, ethical and purposeful actions; and empathetic, regular and consistent relationships.[24] Enable people to lead, contribute, innovate and create so they may iteratively, cooperatively and collaboratively share their talents with the world.[25]

In 1952, Eisenhower wrote:

'If I have one instinctive passion in my dealings with others, it is the right of every individual to their own privacy in heart and mind. Humans are more emotional and sentimental beings than they are logical and intellectual. When, therefore, they are shocked or hurt in their deepest selves, others should… as I see it, stand by, but refrain from probing, advising or even – in the verbal sense – sympathising.'[26]

Eisenhower’s philosophy, respecting privacy and ‘refraining from probing or advising’ people under emotional stress, was core to his personal interactions. Eisenhower’s ‘strength came from balance, and such psychological equilibrium required the melding of humility, determination and human empathy’.[27] Susan Eisenhower notes, at the ‘core of humility is the acknowledgement of something larger than oneself – and the acceptance of one’s own mortality.'[28]

Principle 7 – Develop the potential of your people. Develop people as leaders through enabling their cultural, personal and professional potential.[29] Peoples’ potential includes disciplined initiative, where people and teams are empowered to follow their orders and adhere to the plan, until they realise their orders and the plan are no longer suitable for the situation in which they find themselves. People learn to trust that they have the authority and responsibility to act. When the situation changes, disciplined initiative means our people and teams are supported and trusted to act, while learning and adjusting to the new situation to achieve their commander’s intent. Importantly, they report to their commander about the new situation at the first opportunity.[30]

Eisenhower as a soldier and a President, had a:

'…profound sense of respect for the American people, their fortitude, their capacity for sacrifice, and their valour on the battlefield. He deeply believed in their fundamental right to direct their own destiny.'[31]

As a leader, Eisenhower:

'…could be extraordinarily direct with his colleagues, exhorting them to sharper thinking, higher motives, greater sacrifice – never forgetting that they, like him, must be organised and prepared to do what they thought best for the nation, and be ready for the fallout that might arise from the political environment in which they operated.'[32]

Principle 8 – Make sound and timely decisions. Define the problem(s) you are solving. Know your organisation’s mission, task and purpose. Plan, prepare and anticipate branch plans or operational sequels. Understand who holds, or owns, the risk? For how long is risk held? Analyse risk, in collaboration with your people and teams, to determine the level of acceptable risk and whether to tolerate, treat or transfer risk, or terminate the mission.[33] Confirm, backbrief and discuss your understanding of your organisation’s mission, task and purpose with your commander. In making decisions about people, deliberate carefully and, when necessary, consult others. Think and communicate collaboratively, creatively and critically.[34]

Eisenhower, especially as President, ‘never made important decisions in front of others.' Instead, he would ‘go into his office alone and think about all he had heard.' Eisenhower was an ‘emotional man,’ but he ‘never made emotional decisions, he did not let his emotions control him.'[35]

Principle 9 – Build the team and challenge their abilities. Develop a respectful team culture where every member of the team feels they belong.[36] Lead, empower, mentor and nurture teams based on the five Defence Values of service, courage, respect, integrity and excellence. Teams accrue comparative advantage based on mental, intellectual and organisational foundations manifesting, in one combination or another, as discipline and cohesion, morale and initiative, courage and toughness.[37] As a team, train, educate, learn, collaborate and innovate. As a team, review, reflect and reconsider the achievement of your mission, task and purpose. Identify opportunities for your team to sustain, improve or fix their individual and collective achievements.

Eisenhower believed a commander has the ‘double burden’ of ‘preserving optimism in themselves and in their command.' He believed that ‘optimism and pessimism are infections and they spread more rapidly from the commander down, than in any other direction.'[38]

As a military commander, in building teams and challenging their abilities, Eisenhower made a resolution:

'I firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory – that any pessimism and discouragement I might ever feel would be reserved for my pillow… I adopted a policy of circulating through the whole force to the full limit imposed by physical considerations… I did my best to meet everyone from General to Private with a smile, a pat on the back and a definite interest in their problems.'[39]

On morale, Eisenhower noted:

'Morale is at one and the same time the strongest and the most delicate of growths. It withstands shocks – even disasters of the battlefield, but can be destroyed utterly by favouritism, neglect or injustice.'[40]

As President, on 02 February 1953, in his first State of the Union address, Eisenhower emphasised building the team and challenging their abilities, when he pledged his ‘dedication to the well-being of all our citizens and to the attainment of equality of opportunity for all, so that our Nation will ever act with the strength of unity in every task to which it is called.'[41]

Principle 10 – Communicate effectively. Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.[42] Communication is a two-way process. Listen as much as you speak. Listen to understand rather than to respond.[43] Rehearse, review and practice your written and oratory skills for different circumstances, including for: your team; families; public events; meetings; colleagues; and with your commander. Intent is personally prepared and delivered by a leader and is communicated as a clear and concise expression of the mission, task, purpose, limitations, conditions and end-state of an operation. Clear and concise intent provides focus to our people and teams for achievement of desired results without further orders, even when the operation does not unfold as planned. Intent, nested and reinforced at each level of command, provides the basis for unified actions throughout the force.[44]

To simplify his intent and messages, and unify his teams, Eisenhower articulated a series of maxims to guide his people:

  • Take your job seriously, but never yourself.
  • All generalisations are false, including this one.
  • There is no such thing as an indispensable person.
  • Let us not make our mistakes in a hurry.
  • What is best for our nation as a whole?[45]
  • It is better to have one person working with you than three working for you.[46]
  • Be transparent and accountable.
  • Gently in manner; strongly in deed.[47]


The purpose of this article is to apply ideas from How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower's Biggest Decisions, against the ten ADF Leadership Principles.

ADF Leadership, the ADF, Philosophical Doctrine, 2021, articulates ten ADF Leadership Principles. These principles, as a ‘guide for self-assessment,' are ‘useful… as we each develop our leadership skills.'[48]

Eisenhower’s leadership, described by Susan Eisenhower in How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower's Biggest Decisions, constantly evolved. From Eisenhower’s upbringing, early military experiences, supreme military command to President of the United States, he was continuously learning and adapting his leadership style.

Eisenhower made mistakes. He learned and adapted. He embraced success with humility. Finally, Eisenhower knew that leadership, like planning, constantly adjusts to the circumstances of the environment:

'Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning… you must start with this one thing: the very definition of [military planning] is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.'[49]