D-Day today is a 20th century icon of courage. It embodies bold action, monumental risk, and scathing pain. A paragon of Leadership, but also a time to note that Management can be just as courageous and even painful.

One of my thought-leader heroes (see column at right), Malcolm Gladwell, captures this dynamic in his essay “Blowing Up” (a title also apropos to D-Day)…

  • This kind of caution does not seem heroic, of course. It seems like the joyless prudence of the accountant and the Sunday-school teacher. The truth is that we are drawn to the Niederhoffers of this world because we are all, at heart, like Niederhoffer: we associate the willingness to risk great failure — and the ability to climb back from catastrophe–with courage. But in this we are wrong. That is the lesson of Taleb and Niederhoffer, and also the lesson of our volatile times. There is more courage and heroism in defying the human impulse, in taking the purposeful and painful steps to prepare for the unimaginable.”

Gladwell’s piece is a bite sized starter for anyone interested in Nassim Taleb’s pioneering perspectives on risk but struggling to find the time to pick up “Black Swan” or “Fooled By Randomness”. He talks about the minefields action men face in business and in life. And how the battle is just as much about surviving the downside of tomorrow as seizing the day today.

A true test of an executive’s courage is to have power, but also the strength to not use it. Despite the pain endured inside. To have the vision to do something and the restraint to do nothing and the discernment to know when to do which.

D-Day was an embarkation of Leadership to victory that led to a conclusion of an equally courageous ‘Management’ restraint with the equally historic Marshall Plan. Never before had a victor passed up punishment and pillage of an adversary (especially an aggressor) so resolutely. It was a triumph of ‘Management’ that got forgotten in the Bush Administration where the Afghan War and Iraq War was all D-Day and no Marshall Plan.

Leaders launch D-Day; Managers launch Marshall Plans. Both together are needed for lasting peace.

As Alexander Pope wrote in his “Essay on Man”…

  • Two principles in human nature reign;
    Self-love, to urge, and Reason, to restrain;
    Nor this is a good, nor that a bad we call,
    Each works its end, to move or govern all.