“Setting Impossibly High Goals!”
Winning Leadership—Then, Now & Forever
2019: Leading from the Front! Part 3
I want to tell you a story. Problem is…it’s really, too big a story to tell here. But you need to hear it at this precise moment in time, because it just might change your life, and change your business. Considering the title, I’ve chosen, this does seem like an impossibly high goal to set…but set it, I did, and I ask you to simply take in this short message and see how it might apply to you.
My previous column concerned a particular “day,” now known in history as the “Day of Infamy” (December 7, 1941), which was the beginning of America’s entry into World War II. Today, I want you to know how the end of that epic struggle came to be, the goal setting and planning that went into it, and how it relates to you. Fittingly, the beginning of the end of World War II also is marked by a “day,” D-Day, June 6, 1944. Interesting, isn’t it, that we make such note of these “Days.”
Historian James Holland has argued that we, as a people, have become too comfortable in our understanding of this event, that we have developed a kind of ‘shorthand’ to tell this famous story, and that this shorthand does a great injustice to those who saw action in France across the summer of 1944. But I digress; let me get to the story, because it is critical that you understand the magnitude of what happened then and how that relates to the impossibly big goals you may need to set for yourself today.
Let us start with a definition of D-Day, which is a military term for the day a major campaign commences. The code name for this attack was Operation Overlord and involved an initial amphibious landing on France’s northern coast of Normandy, by some 133,000 ground soldiers, plus 24,000 air assault troops—all of these came from several different Allied countries. It was a huge undertaking, so we sometimes refer to it as “the Longest Day,” and we become aware of it with movies with that same title, as well as “Band of Brothers,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and so on.
The reality is D-Day actually was much more than one long day. At its conclusion, it consumed 77 days. (That last day was D+76.) The ultimate purpose of this was the liberation of France and Europe from a brutal occupying force…ultimately saving and restoring Western civilization. On June 6, 1944 alone, nearly 160,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel for this operation. This was then, and remains until today, the largest amphibious landing in the history of the world.
Supporting this effort was airpower of over 11,000 Allied planes and gliders, more than 5,000 vessels, all required for delivering troops and supplies over a 50–mile-long coastline of beaches in Normandy.
The human cost? It’s important to remember this huge cost today, when some would criticize the value, nobility and greatness of America in world affairs. The U.S. suffered 2,499 dead, 3,184 wounded, with 1,928 missing & 26 captured, British casualties totaled 2,700, along with 946 Canadians. All told, there were approximately 425,000 casualties during the first 20 days alone in the Battle of Normandy.
Truthfully, I do not know how exact these numbers are: they might vary a bit, but the sheer numbers are staggering, aren’t they? Numbers alone might qualify as an “impossibly high goal,” and it was. But also, consider this:
- In modern history, a successful attack across the English Channel had never been accomplished—in either direction!
- Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, considered the chances of success to be low, and even penned an apology letter for newspaper publication, taking full personal blame for the failure of the Operation while simultaneously praising the skill, bravery, and resolve of the troops.
- The landing zones targeted were the most difficult, taking the longest distance of channel to cross.
- A huge, strategic calculation was a deception—a gambler’s bluff—to convince the Nazis that the Allies would not land at Normandy, but at Pas de Calais, the closest point in Europe to Britain. To pull this off, Eisenhower selected famed tank commander, General George Patton to head up the invasion force from this most likely spot. To help pull this off, thousands and thousands of fake tanks (think cardboard cut-outs or huge blow up toys) were positioned there so that any Nazi spy planes flying overhead would be convinced that Patton’s force was real! Thus, forces were kept far away at Calais to deal with the pending—but imagined—threat.
- This Operation, after a relatively few days, had about two million men landed in France. The problem was that they all had to be supported: everything from six million meals a day to the necessity of toilet paper for that many had to be provided, all of it brought in by ship to landing zone ports that did not even yet exist. So…precast concrete pieces, necessary to construct the ports and dry docks, were floated in, positioned, and sunk into place: Instant Ports!
- Pointe du Hoc. Critical to success was the taking of Pointe du Hoc, which was a point of land, rising from the beach about 100 ft. high above the two American landing zones (Utah Beach & Omaha Beach), protected by steep cliffs, containing reinforced concrete gun emplacements. A ranger company of 225 men was tasked with climbing up these cliffs to knock out the guns. They succeeded but suffered 135 men killed or wounded.
Needless to say, the planning for all of this was bigger than gigantic, and was initiated almost one year in advance of the target date. Additionally, once the human pieces of this elaborate force were selected and relocated to Britain—some five or six months ahead of time–they trained daily. The mission was too important to trust it to the untrained. They never took a day off.
Bringing this to present day, and considering the challenges before you, and the goals you may be setting, how are you handling them? Are you backing away from them, thinking them to be too big? Too impossibly high? Can I suggest something to consider?
Robert Schuller once shared this idea with a large audience: “How big a goal would you set for yourself if you knew you could not fail?”
“Coach Gary” would add to the idea above: “How well should you plan and train to truly make sure that your goal absolutely will not fail?”
I also believe that, if a goal is noble enough, worthy and important, then it is not an impossibly high goal. For instance, world domination is not a worthy goal, while freedom certainly is.
That is why, just two years prior to D-Day, U.S. Army Col. Jimmy Doolittle hatched the absolutely, crazy, preposterous, and highly unlikely goal that 16 B-25 bombers could be launched off the deck of an aircraft carrier to bomb Imperial Japan…and then carried it out, bombs and all, with dedicated crews, using precise training and a noble goal.
And it is most certainly true that the goal which John F. Kennedy set for our country in 1963, when we were still behind the USSR in the space race, to land a man on the moon and safely return him to earth, before the end of the decade, and to do this using materials and rocket technology not yet even invented—only imagined—using available computers much less powerful than that of a current smart phone. Visionary!
Three memorable anniversaries this year, all testimonies to American ingenuity, resolve and achievement of impossible goals: April 18th, 1942, 77th anniversary of the flight of the Doolittle squadron; July 20, 1969, 50 years since America’s first moon landing; June 6, 1944, the beginning of D-Day, and the beginning of the end of World War II. All examples of leading from the front, and all of them derived from setting impossibly high goals. This Memorial Day we particularly remember and celebrate the 75th anniversary of that most historic event on the shores of Normandy.
Considering the unlikely success of these three major accomplishments which changed the world, how likely are you to challenge yourself and up your game? (If these do not inspire you that way, then check your pulse!)
Ultimately, I ask you: what are the truly big goals you and your team members need to accomplish, whether they be for family, business or personal? Whatever they are, wherever they exist, regardless of size, however you do it, whoever you do it with: always lead from the front.
Coach Gary says: Your goals must be worthy enough that you will give enough!
Coach Gary’s Corner: Gary Micheloni is a construction company marketer, speaker, author, consultant…and a coach. Get Coach Gary to speak for your group. FullContactTeam@gmail.com And be sure and tell him about your story!