When challenged to develop myself as a leader early last fall, I could think of no whose leadership I would more like to emulate than Major Dick Winters, the one time commander of Easy Company of the 506th PIR in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the army’s second highest award for valor.
If you have ever seen the HBO Miniseries, Band Of Brothers, then Winters’ name will be familiar to you. His determination, his unflappable character, his care for his men, his vision, and his calm under pressure helped hold his men together & enable them to become one of the most vital companies in the entire Allied front. Watching the miniseries (and later reading Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose & Beyond Band of Brothers by Winters himself) almost makes you wish that you could fight alongside such brave men & serve under such remarkable leaders.
Winters, then lieutenant, assumed control of Easy Company after their commanding officer was killed flying into Normandy. He courageously led his men to (among other things) an incredible victory at Brecourt Manor (using 13 men to defeat 60 Germans & disable their 4 105 mm howitzers that had been firing on Utah Beach) & the rout of roughly 300 German S.S. in Holland with a single rifle squad. Later, as commander of 2nd battalion, he would faithfully lead his men into the Battle of the Bulge (where the 101st Airborne was totally surrounded, though never considered surrender) and the capture of Berchtesgaden, the symbolic headquarters of the Nazi party & home of Hitler’s famed “Eagle’s Nest.”
Famed Historian Stephen Ambrose, when asked where he would have most liked to serve during WWII, responded quickly, “In the 101st Airborne, 506th P.I.R., 2nd Battalion, in Easy Company.” When asked why, Ambrose responded, “Because the commander of that company, Dick Winters… was that good. If Dick told me then, and if he told me now, to do something, I wouldn’t ask why. I would just do it. He has character, of course, but he is honest, he has a firmness of purpose, and a direction.”
Winters’ men nearly universally agreed with that assessment. Floyd Talbert told Winters, “You are loved and will never be forgotten by any soldier who ever served under you. You are the best friend I ever had… you were my ideal, and motor in combat… you are to me the greatest soldier I could ever hope to meet.” Leo Boyle, an Easy Company staff sergeant, said that he would’ve followed Dick Winters to hell if he had told him to.
After the release of the Band of Brothers miniseries, Winters was often asked to comment on his leadership & what made Easy Company so effective. He quickly pointed to the incredible dedication of his men, their loyalty to one another, and their belief that they were men privileged to serve in a “company of heroes.” Thankfully, Winters also enumerated what he called “Leadership at the Point of the Bayonet” (more fully explained in Beyond Band of Brothers, p. 283-293). Here are Dick Winters’ Ten Principles for Success in Leadership:
- Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage.
- Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.
- Stay in top physical shape- physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.
- Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.
- Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their jobs. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination or your creativity.
- Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind.
- Remain humble. Don’t worry about who received the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.
- Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.
- True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. The key to a successful leader is to earn respect- not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.
- Hang Tough! Never ever give up.