General Dwight Eisenhower taught me to let go.
Well, General Eisenhower didn’t personally teach me, but I learned an important lesson about letting go while watching a documentary on the Invasion of Normandy. After the good general gave the order to invade on June 6, 1944, he realized that the success of the mission was no longer in his own hands. It was now in the hands of thousands of individual platoon commanders and their troops. Eisenhower had done all that he could to create the conditions for success, now all he could do was to allow those conditions to come to fruition on their own terms. From the moment he gave the order, he had no choice but to let go of outcome.
Eisenhower’s insight is one that I hear over and over from many very successful people. The insight is that success is not often within our own control, especially success on a grand scale. What is entirely within our own control, however, is creating the conditions for success, and then allowing those conditions to come to fruition on their own terms. For example, I cannot make people like me, but I can create the conditions favorable for people to like me, by for example, being kind and sincere to people and helping them when I can. Another example, I cannot make customers buy my products, but I can create the conditions favorable for making sales, by paying attention to my customers’ needs and creating an awesome product to serve them. In both cases, I cannot create success, but I can create the conditions favorable for success and then allow those conditions to come to fruition as and when they want to.
Hence, the key lesson is: Focus on the effort, but let go of outcome. This is a combination of two seemingly contradictory mindsets: pro-active optimism and letting go. We can practice them both at the same time, and it turns out to be an optimal strategy.
And that is true even for a great military leader.