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Lessons from ‘Band of Brothers’

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Even in conversation, Maj. Richard “Dick” Winters shows the leadership traits that made him a key player on D-day and a pivotal character in the HBO World War II series Band of Brothers. Here’s a sampling of how Winters’ careful preparation honed his leadership skills:
  • Stay keenly observant. It didn’t escape Winters’ attention that, on the way to Army airborne training in South Carolina, he passed a casket factory, and that the name of his training ground was Camp Toombs.
  • Relish a challenge. Fast training walks up and down Currahee Mountain were “wicked, a real killer,” Winters remembers. “But Currahee ... became a test for all the men and officers.”
  • Value fairness. Winters noticed that everyone had to walk up the mountain. “It was equal for every man, every officer,” he says. “Nobody was getting by with a thing. Everybody was being treated the same.”
  • Empathize with the boss. Winters understood the challenges his West Point-trained colonel faced in commanding a bunch of novices. “It makes it even tougher when you look at the officers he was assigned,” Winters says. “And I include myself here … a 90-day wonder, and now I am a second lieutenant. And this is the kind of stuff he was assigned and told to turn into a crack airborne unit.”
  • Pause periodically for reflection. In England, Winters spent so much time in tight quarters that he seized chances to go off by himself. “The best place to be alone with your thoughts is in church,” he says. “So I went to church. It gave me a chance to relax a little bit, get my thoughts together.”
  • Give and don’t take. Winters reprimanded a fellow officer who had developed the habit of gambling with his troops. “You have to be prepared to give to the people you lead,” Winters says. “You must never take.”
  • Earn people’s respect. You do that through honesty, says Winters. “You can’t be honest and fair one day, and the next give your people the short end of the stick. If you have character, that means the guy you are dealing with can trust you.”
  • Improvise. While training in England, Winters and his fellow troopers were shown detailed maps of where they would parachute behind enemy lines. They were expected to memorize every detail of the topography and mission, but could take in only so much, Winters says. “You have got to be able to think on your feet,” he says.
That he did. Leading a small unit from Easy Company, he knocked out four German guns firing into the Americans storming Utah Beach. How he did it later became a staple of military training.

— Adapted from “Ordinary Men Achieving Extraordinary Things,” Christopher J. Anderson, American History.

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