Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at the Annual Conference of the Society for Personnel Administration.

May 12, 1954

Mr. Chairman and ladies and gentlemen:

In the few moments that I am allotted on this stand, there are three sub-subjects on which I should like to speak to you.

First is, of course, my privilege of bidding you welcome to this Capital City on behalf of the administration, and to hope that you will find here not only profitable meetings but real enjoyment. during your stay.

The second is to express great admiration for the kind of work you are doing in developing policies and methods that apply to the employment of people in masses.

It is a simple enough thing to establish a good relationship with one individual, but when we go into the great organisms that modern life demands--great organisms of personnel--then, of course, policy must serve as a guide for many, many hundreds of sub-executives.

Unless we are wise in the development of those policies, we will not get from governmental and civilian organisms the kind of service we must have. Public service requires the finest types of humans. Along with being intelligent people, people of integrity and probity, they must be dedicated people; because always, somewhere, if they are capable, is held before them material reward in some other job that would far outstrip what they are given in the public service.

So we must achieve, then, a morale--an esprit--and a sense of dedication, that keep in all of these organisms the finest we can produce. Because, through them, our lives are affected--through these organisms they are affected in many ways. Whole philosophies can develop out of real operations by these bodies.

So I not only am interested in your work, I would hope that every department of the Federal Government that can possibly assist you would show a readiness to cooperate, an anxiety to cooperate, in what you are doing that would be measured only by their recognition of the importance of your work. And I am sure that that will be high.

Now the third related subject I wanted to bring up is not about the methods and the systems and the planning and the ideas that engage your attention. In the specific sense, you unquestionably know more about those than I. But I think I can claim a little experience in dealing with humans as individuals. And so I want to talk for just a moment about the personal relationship that must exist in all personnel systems.

Sometimes, in our studies and in planning of how we will do certain things to promote justice and fairness, opportunities for merit to go up and security for all that are working loyally, we forget that the person who is to be affected by this policy is another individual just like ourselves. He is subject to the same kind of fears, the same kind of hopes, with the same kind of ambitions and aspirations, the same kind of worries and problems that we all have. So we tend to become mechanical.

I believe in the most intense personal application to personnel problems in every organism that you can think of. I believe that there is more to be gained by the boss letting his people know that if necessary-if they have got something that is really on their hearts--they can get all the way up to him. That is far more important than the exact accuracy of some policy intended to promote justice and fairness for all.

I admit you need policies, but without this human element, they are sterile and negative.

The personal quality is something we call leadership. And so I think, in a word, what I am saying is--don't forget that all the policies that you can devise must presume and assume leadership.

Now, strangely enough, everybody thinks he is a leader, that he has splendid qualities, that everybody should like him, and everything is lovely and that is that! Do you know there are languages that do not include the word "leadership"? They do not even comprehend the general meaning that I think most of us have in mind when we use that word.

Now I think, speaking roughly, by leadership we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it, not because your position of power can compel him to do it, or your position of authority. A commander of a regiment is not necessarily a leader. He has all of the appurtenances of power given by a set of Army regulations by which he can compel unified action. He can say to a body such as this, "Rise," and "Sit down." You do it exactly. But that is not leadership.

Now a leader makes use of the powers inherent in a position, as he establishes the influence of his leadership. But this is only a part. He never rests there. He gets over to the individual with whom he is working that he does hope to understand that individual, that he is sympathetic when a child is sick, or anything else is happening that troubles that individual.

I have worked for a long time with bodies of public servants, both in uniform and without. I am convinced that this item concerning which I presume to take up some of your time is not only of importance, it is of growing importance. And again, I give you the reason: because we must organize hierarchies of command reaching from somebody who is the boss, on down three or four, then on down three or four more until you have millions. It becomes more difficult for personal qualities to reach down to the last individual.

Now, there is the problem. How do you pick your people? How do you impress those that you meet so that they in turn will take their own methods and their own ways? Some leaders are scrawny little people, and some are big and handsome guys, and so on. It makes no difference: if they have got this in their hearts, they can be leaders. That is the job that I think, as you study policies, as you study methods, you must never forget. We must assume it, and presume it, and insist upon it. And no man and no woman who shows a lack of concern about this matter, who dismisses it, should ever be allowed to go too high in the service. Because humans are still humans, they will respond to human consideration, to human kindness, to human courtesy--which are at the same time the cheapest and most valuable items that I know in dealing with another.

I thank you very much indeed for the honor you have done me by inviting me before you.

Good luck to you.

Note: The President spoke at the Statler Hotel in Washington. His opening words "Mr. Chairman" referred to Dr. Erwin D. Draheim, President of the Society for Personnel Administration.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the Annual Conference of the Society for Personnel Administration. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231971

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