The Normandy Leadership Experience
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June 6, 1944 By the time Brigadier General Norm Cota came ashore on Omaha Beach, the American attack was faltering. Initial assault waves had suffered hundreds of casualties. Those still alive were seasick from hours in the landing craft, and many had lost their weapons in the churning water.
Cota faced the ultimate test of a combat leader: get terrified men moving to attack an entrenched and determined enemy. How Cota and countless other D-Day leaders accomplished this mission is a story about leadership that holds important lessons for business leaders today.
The Normandy Leadership Experience brings participants to the site of one of the world's great military operations—the 1944 Allied liberation of France—to learn timeless lessons on leadership. Walking the ground of this famous struggle, participants gain new insights on how to:
- build flexible organizations that execute in the midst of chaos and rapid change
- develop leaders who think strategically to prepare for complex and dynamic environments
- explore how leaders earn the trust of subordinates
- build strong coalitions, across cultures and generations, for competition in the global marketplace
- prepare the next generation of leaders
Modeled on a technique used to train U. S. Army officers in leadership and decision-making, the experience lets participants see and feel, as no history book or mere lecture can, the challenges that faced commanders in World War Two's pivotal battle in the West. We provide the historical background and facilitate in-depth discussion to reach a deep understanding of "leadership in action." Executives leave excited about their opportunities to be better leaders and armed with battle-tested tools they can use immediately.
Day 1: Travel to Château La Chenevière, Normandy
The Staff Ride: The Normandy Leadership Experience is modeled on the staff ride, a technique used to train U. S. Army officers in leadership and decision-making. We'll introduce the learning framework that will help participants reach a deep understanding of leadership in action.
The War So Far: We'll put the invasion and the Normandy campaign in the context of World War Two, which was in its fifth year in Europe.
Dwight Eisenhower: We'll discuss the peculiar responsibilities of a Supreme Commander in this vast coalition. How did Ike get his subordinates—particularly the Americans and British—to put aside their hostility long enough to accomplish the mission?
Strategic Choices: Why did the Allies choose Normandy? How did their plans for the campaign in France help determine this choice?
Operation Fortitude: This huge ruse, employed to persuade the Germans that an entire Army existed in southeast England, is a brilliant example of the use of technology in counter-intelligence.
The Principles of War: Finally, we will introduce the audience to principles used by military leaders, as a way of understanding their decisions.
Day 2: The British and Canadian Sectors
The extreme left flank of the British landing zone lay along the River Orne and the Caen canal. The British needed control of the bridges near Ranville early on D-Day in order to block German counterattacks against the vulnerable flank. The bridges, located miles inland, had to be captured intact.
A force of glider-borne troops stormed the bridges in the first ground combat action on D-Day. The assault was beyond daring—it could easily be described as foolhardy—but it succeeded because of leadership, exceptional preparation, flexibility in execution and sheer determination on the part of the assault troops.
From a vantage point near the middle of the invasion area we'll see the giant artificial harbors the Allies built in just a few days to handle the massive inflow of materiel needed to sustain the invasion. An amphibious landing is one of the most complex operations in warfare, and there was no precedent for an invasion as large as D-Day. At Arromanches we'll examine the challenges of logistics planning and supply chain management.
At this German coastal battery, we'll get our first glimpse of what June 6 must have been like for the Germans caught in their fixed positions as they became targets for US and Royal Navy ships, and later, for the advancing Allied infantrymen.
We'll discuss the challenges faced by German commanders, who were inhibited by an unworkable command structure, shortages of trained troops and supplies.
Day 3: The American Airborne Operation
La Fiere Bridge & Ste Mere Eglise
US paratroopers were to seize the causeways and road networks behind Utah Beach to stop expected German counterattacks and to hold the door open for US forces coming off the beach. Badly scattered on the drop, the troopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions patched together ad hoc units, located what weapons and equipment (also scattered in the drop) they could, and set out to accomplish their missions.
In fighting around the important crossroads town of Ste Mere Eglise, the paratroopers were creative, flexible and determined. In that, they were a reflection of their leaders and their unique training; and they showed the critical role played by culture in an organization's performance.
At La Fiere Bridge, the battle turned on the efforts of a few score men who held their ground in the face of devastating losses and multiple attacks by German armor.
Day 4: The American Amphibious Operation
Here at the right end of the American sector, we'll discuss how one leader—in the right place at the right time—saved what could have been a disastrous beginning.
Although Utah was not as heavily defended as other beaches, the initial assault waves were confused when they came in at the wrong locations. A critical decision by Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt (son of the late President) got things moving. We'll use the Roosevelt story to talk about where leaders need to be, what they need to check, and how they get involved without micro-managing.
It was at Omaha Beach that the Allied landings came closest to failing. Initial assault waves were met by unimaginable violence that slaughtered entire units and left men struggling through the surf. Instead of landing as highly trained, superbly conditioned and well-equipped soldiers, the GI's who struggled ashore were sea-sick, exhausted, terrified, disoriented and often leaderless. German fire raked the beach from concealed positions.
All of the military might of the United States was powerless to move things along. The battle turned on the individual initiative of a few leaders. Most of them were young and inexperienced, yet they took charge of their tiny little sectors of the war and by personal example—and often at the cost of their lives—got their soldiers moving inland.
We will discuss the technical aspects of the assault—what was the plan and why did it fail—as well as the human dimension.
Day 5: The Sacrifice
American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer
We will spend the morning at the American Military Cemetery, where the remains of 9,386 US soldiers rest.
Return to Paris by late afternoon