The recent rerun of HBOs World War 2 series Band of Brothers gave me a chance to re-examine the leadership qualities of its leading character, Richard Winters, the commander of a US parachute infantry unit.
Military commanders make great leadership case studies because they have to manage and lead their men, as well as execute their missions, during combat.
Based on the real-life account of Easy Company under 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, Winters started out as a second lieutenant and by the time the war ended, he rose to the rank of major and commanded the battalion.
One highlight was that he led a force of less than 20 men to destroy an artillery battery guarded by some 50 soldiers. The attack later became a textbook assault on a fixed position at the West Point military academy. Amazingly, it is still being taught today. Subsequently, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.
It was a completely ad-hoc order given to him to take out the position, yet in the very little time that he had, he was able to quickly assess the enemy, gave detailed instructions to his men and lead from the front.
Throughout the series, whether during combat or off-action, he was able to give out clear and informative instructions not just to his men but to his superiors as well. For me, it is this particular ability of his that sets him apart from other leaders.
Having the skill sets is one thing, but being able to balance that with the ability to manage people is something that separates the leaders from the men.
There are numerous sites that pay tribute to this man. See here for a very good description of his leadership principles and an extract that appeared here where he reflected on his time spent in the war.
The following text extracted from the site gives a good description of his leadership style.
The qualities you are looking for in a leader include: Does the individual have the respect of the men? How do you get the respect of the men? By living with them, being a part of them, being able to understand what they are going through and not to separate yourself from them. You have to know your men. You have to gain their confidence. And the way to gain the confidence of anybody, whether it's in war or civilian life or whatever, you must be honest. Be honest, be fair and be consistent. You can't be honest and fair one day, and the next give your people the short end of the stick. Once you can achieve that, you will be a leader.
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