Establish Your Foothold

By Stephen T. Messenger

June 8, 2021

This week commemorates the 77th anniversary of the D-Day invasion where on June 6, 1944 Allied forces began the operation to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany. There are many incredible aspects of this story, but one of the most interesting rests in the decision General Dwight Eisenhower had to make on the timing of the attack. He understood what great leaders do: establish your foothold now.

His decision was mind-wracking. On June 5th, he already postponed the attack one day because of weather, and any more delay would force the invasion into July based on the tides. This additional loss of time would in turn push the fighting into the unpredictable winter months once they reached Germany. The current weather projections were questionable for dropping the critical paratrooper units behind enemy lines and preventing reinforcements on the beachheads. Moreover, his staff gave conflicting recommendations to go or delay based on weather. The decision rested with Eisenhower alone.

He pondered aloud, “How long can you hang this operation on the end of a limb and let it hang there?” This is the question many of us ask ourselves every day. We have tasks to do, but for how long can we postpone starting them before they slip away. The first step is always to establish a foothold—make the decision to start the operation.

Procrastination is a bear. We have goals and plans but any excuse can delay a decision to start. I personally experience this in the online courses I’m taking. The most daunting task is to start putting words on paper. However, once I start writing and gain a foothold on the assignment, the rest quickly builds momentum. Just like Eisenhower who knew delaying would cost time and initiative, delaying your project has a sunk cost as well.

There are a few definitions of the term “foothold;” here are two of the best.

1. An area in hostile territory that has been captured and is awaiting further troops and supplies to continue the advance

2. A place of stability where you can put your foot securely enough to move forward

Both of these terms imply on the desire to gain more ground after the initial burst of energy. Leaders see beyond the first step and envision a greater future state. I personally see this initial step as critical across many areas of my life.

– Exercise. Getting up early on the first alarm. Sometimes the hardest part of exercise is to get out of bed.

– Work Projects. Setting an initial calendar invite to those on the project team. The first step is talking to others.

– The Next College Class. It is so easy to take a semester off. Enrolling immediately sets the pace for continuing the march towards graduation.

– Dating My Bride. Proposing a time and place for our next date with her ensures it will happen. Not having specifics sometimes allows weeks to pass without working on our marriage.

The list of areas to seize a foothold in is endless along with excuses that will prevent you from starting. Leaders must get the ball rolling. There are so many projects that you, your team, or your family is looking at you to start. They’re all watching to see if you’re going to lead them to the next level or kick the can down the road. It’s imperative that you identify these projects and get moving sooner rather than later.

As a counterpoint, sometimes based on the current environment, delays are a good thing. Perhaps the timing is wrong, the investment needs more time to develop, or the weather just isn’t going to allow the ships and planes through. In these cases, leaders make great decisions to mitigate risk and strike when the time is right. However, in most cases, we as humans are just lazy and delay starting the project. Leaders inspire action whether towards personal goals or the collective good.

General Eisenhower had one of the toughest military decisions to make in the history of warfare. He was committing not only the lives of tens of thousands of service members, but the success of the entire operation and the loss of surprise. A few minutes after his question of how long the invasion could possibly be postponed, he thoughtfully replied, “I am quite sure the order must be given.” He launched the D-Day invasion, and Allied forces began their march to Berlin.

The decision to make the first step is waiting for you today. In many cases, you’re quite sure the order must be given. Do it. Establish that foothold today and reap the rewards tomorrow.  

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