Major Winters & What Makes A Good Leader

Major Richard Winters was an officer of the United States Army and a veteran of the Second World War. He commanded the Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment which was a part of the 101st Airborne Division. The actions of the company and of Major Winters were portrayed in the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers.

Major Winters would receive many honors and medals which included a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and a Distinguished Service Cross which is the second highest military award that can be given to a member of the United States Army. Additionally, Major Winters was awarded the Freedom Medal & Freedom from Fear Medal from the Roosevelt Institute.

The success of the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers prompted Major Winters to tell his own story using his own words and this resulted in the book, Beyond Band of Brothers. In this war memoir, Major Winters recounts his childhood, his training, the events that took place during the war and all the heroic men that came together and persevered hardship as a single unit. One theme that runs throughout the book is the importance of leadership. Proper leadership can bring men together and lessen the number of possible casualties. Improper leadership can cause selfishness and disorder and can result in a higher number of casualties along with the failure to achieve one’s objective. Major Winters understood this notion as well as anyone and in doing so, he was able to culminate certain leadership principles which were a direct result of his own experiences as a leader and his observations of other leaders in the army.

  1. Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage

  2. Lead from the Front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.

  3. Stay in top physical shape. Physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.

  4. Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.

  8. Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.

  9. True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. The key to a successful leader is to earn respect and not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.

  10. Hang Tough! Never, ever, give up.

A leader is essentially an individual who leads by example and who does not ask others to do something that they would not do themselves. In this manner, the leader must have both moral and physical courage to act in the correct way. A leader understands the implication of his or her actions and is willing to live with the consequences and additionally, a leader perseveres through the bad and the rough, allowing neither thing to break them.

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.