Freedom is one of the most powerful and fulfilling values that we can hold.
I was reminded – again – of the power and value of freedom on a recent trip to the D-Day beaches and sites in Normandy, France. Visiting Normandy is a moving and awe-inspiring experience – one I highly recommend for everyone. The bravery and sacrifices made that day (and in the days surrounding it) remind us of the price of our freedom, and the need to commit to it and preserve it.
But I also learned a little different aspect of freedom on my visit: The Freedom to Act.
Our guide for the day, Mr. Dean Harvey, has made it his mission in life to preserve and honor the memories of some of the lesser-known heroes (and heroines) of D-Day.
And one of the themes amongst almost all the heroes that he brought to life for us that day was the courage and freedom to act according to one’s conscience and according to one’s evaluation of a situation.
Take the situation on Omaha Beach, for example. In the early hours of the campaign, it was not going well. Hundreds of men were dying on the beaches trying to follow the plan, their orders for the day. In fact, it was going so badly, that the commanders stationed offshore almost called it off.
Except for the courage and decision-making of two remarkable men on the beach. Brigadier General Norm Cota and Major Sidney Bingham realized independently that the plan to attack and take the exits to the beach was doomed to failure. The beach exits were too well fortified, too heavily defended to be breached.
However, the bluffs in between the beach exits, although still defended, were much less so. They saw an opportunity and took it. They led their men up the bluffs, overcame the German defenses there, and eventually took the beach exits from behind German lines.
Their quick thinking, their willingness to defy orders and take charge of a potentially catastrophic situation was the difference between victory and defeat on that critical day of World War II.
Mr. Harvey, who was born and raised in Great Britain, pointed out that the British that day were far less successful than the Americans. Why? Well, in part, because the British soldiers on the ground were much less willing to embrace the Freedom to Act in the same way that American soldiers were. They were much more conditioned to follow orders rather than think on their own.
The Freedom to Act is one of the most precious gifts we are given. The freedom to think for ourselves, make decisions that serve the greatest number of people, to change plans at the drop of hat.
Leadership is not a title or a position.
Leadership is embracing and using the freedom to act in ways that benefit yourself and those around you.
Brigadier General Norm Cota and Major Sidney Bingham (and others) took the freedom to act on June 6, 1944 and changed the course of the war.
Our actions don’t always have that big of an impact, but I’m sure they didn’t think theirs would either. They just did what needed to be done at the time.
You never know what impact your actions will have – how big or how small. You only know what’s in front of you and what choices you have in the moment.
Will you exercise your freedom to act? Or will you allow yourself (and maybe others) to stay stuck on the beach?
Let’s choose to exercise our freedom together.