At our recent leadership seminar for the National Association of Counties, we communicated Secretary of State Marshall’s powerful example of transformational leadership to secure European economic recovery following World War II.
Known as the Marshall Plan, the European Recovery Program represents the power of a person to transform. It was not easy, however. Marshall met considerable opposition before winning approval for the Marshall Plan. He spent countless hours testifying before Congress and visiting with Congressional leadership. He said of the relationship he developed with Senator Arthur Vandenberg, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “We couldn’t have gotten much closer together unless I sat in Vandenberg’s lap or he sat in mine.” Traveling constantly for nearly a year, Marshall visited clubs, groups and professional and trade associations throughout the United States to secure grassroots support necessary for passage of the legislation creating and funding the program.
Yet when he first presented his ideas in a speech in June 1947 at Harvard, he intentionally left out important details that would be supplied later as the European countries (and later the American people) embraced his bold idea. Instead on that day, he sought to share a vision. In expressing his vision he began to transform possibility into reality, desperation into hope, and reluctance into commitment.
Because Marshall possessed a remarkable ability to “see around the corner,” he could glimpse the future before others had any idea it was approaching. This ability made him one of the most effective leaders of the 20th century as FedEx CEO Frederick Smith described a few years ago. As he did in World War II while serving as Army chief of staff and again following the war as secretary of state, Marshall was ahead of the curve and guided other leaders to share his point of view. He knew what had to be done and used his extraordinary powers of persuasion to create valuable alliances to solve big problems.
Some other leaders in the 20th century were transformational as well. Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind. All were gifted in sharing a vision for a future that would be transformed by that vision.
The Marshall Foundation offers a series of innovative leadership education programs that emphasize strengths of Marshall’s character and leadership so current generations of emerging and rising leaders can appreciate his legacy and benefit from his timeless example.