Major Winters And What Makes A Bad Leader

In the book Beyond Band of Brother, Major Dick Winters describes his life and his upbringing and what lead him to join the American paratroopers during the Second World War and the subsequent trials and tribulations Major Winters and his fellow officers endured during the war.

However, I wish to focus on the early part of Major Winters story, in particular, his training that would lead him to become a proper paratrooper. For it is in his description of the training regimen where he speaks of leadership the most. In particular, the poor leadership qualities of Herbert Sobel who was given the task to mold these young men into capable soldiers.

I have always felt that for the eyes of the enlisted men, a junior company officer should try to be a reflection of his company commander. Easy Company’s junior officers found they simply could not emulate the image of Sibel and live with themselves. Sobel was not just unfair; he was plain mean.

Major Winters speaks of the unrealistic expectations of Sobel and how they affected the morale of the company. What Major Winters emphasizes here is that a good leader provides fair boundaries and established rules while a bad leader ignores these established rules if he feels like it and in doing such a thing, creates a barrier between himself and the men he is supposed to help. A good leader works in the zone of proximal development where he or she just pushes others outside of what they know but not too far that they would fail.

Sobel started to wilt and his disposition grew increasingly impossible. In a bad mood he could go down a line of men during an inspection and find five or six dirty stacking swivels or weapon slings in a row. Then he might switch to finding three or foud soldiers with “dirty ears.” A man could not pass inspection if Sobel had a grudge against him, and it seemed that our company commander held many grudges.

The biggest area of concern when it came to leadership was how one leads. Is it with fear? or is it through example? It is not surprising to learn that the soldiers despised the fact that fear was used by Sobel. While Major Winters speaks about the power of leadership by example throughout the text, even calling it the most fundamental element in good leadership. But it would not be Sobel’s way.

What bothered Easy Company’s officers, me included, was not Sobel’s emphasis on strict discipline, but his desire to lead by fear rather than example.

Such a strict and unfair way of leadership can bring about results. The Easy Company proved to be well disciplined and well conditions and passed training competitions with flying colors. However, the men of the Easy Company were not loyal to Sobel. A leader needs loyalty and this loyalty comes through good leadership and not just simply from results.

One officer summed up our collective appraisal by stating that Sobel was dedicated to doing everything by the book, but he seemed to possess tunnel vision. He could not, or would not, see or anticipate the results of his disciplinary measures on the men. As a result, Easy Company gave their loyalty and devotion to their platoon leaders, who in turn took care of their men the best they could and who softened Sobel’s dictatorial behavior.

One reason perhaps why Major Winters included his training experience may have been to show how not to lead. According to Major Winters, a bad leader is one who does not have fixed boundaries, who leads by fear and one who is inflexible.

Then, the opposite of that gives hints to what a proper leader should be.

  1. A leader must abide by a specific set of standards and not allow his or her feelings to interfere with evaluation.
  2. A leader must lead by example. Here, a leader shows capabilities so, the leader is then seen as someone to emulate.
  3. A leader should be caring and flexible. A leader needs loyalty and this comes through genuine care shown towards others. A leader need not be so strict and posses tunnell vision regarding results that he or she ends up isolating themselves from the group.

What makes a good leader according Major Winters view my follow up post.