Lessons in Life And Leadership: Major Richard Winters (Part 2)

July 29, 2009 § 3 Comments

4. Be humble, lead by example

If you’ve watched Band of Brothers, then I’m sure you’ll remember the memorable opening scene in “The Island”, where Richard Winters charges right ahead of his company to face an entire company of SS paratroopers. Thats leading by example in the face of imminent risk and danger. The most successful leaders take great pains to make themselves highly visible, amongst many reasons, but also to share the hardships with their men. Leadership can be summed up in two words.

“Follow Me!

Good decisions cannot be made if they are not made from the point of attack. The same holds true for any leader of an organization or a work team. He or she must be in the forefront of the situation.

And when all is said and done, the true leader never bothers about who takes credit. In Major Richard Winter’s words, “If you don’t worry about who gets the credit, you get alot more done.” The same holds true for accepting blame when an operation, project, or mission fails. This is simply due to the fact that the men and women in your team do the lion’s share of the work.”

For their heroics on D-Day, Major Winters was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, while several other members of Easy Company were awarded Silver and Bronze Stars. Yet these men never spoke of these awards when they returned to their civilian life. Author of “The Greatest Generation” Tom Brokaw notes that “The World War II generation did what was expected of them. But they never talked about it. It was part of the Code.

5. Anticipate problems and accept challenges

I have also discovered that careful preparation and anticipation of potential problems eliminate many of the obstacles that one encounters on the battlefield. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind as to what course of action you intend to follow.” -Major Richard Winters

This same concept and lesson can be applied to everyday life. During college, I had ample opportunities to work in teams to complete semester projects, and needless to say, problems and challenges were part and parcel of it all. Being in the mindset to accept these challenges as growth opportunities, and being prepared for them allowed me to make logical and sound decisions even when under pressure. When I’m handling projects with my teammates, what kind of problems will we likely face? And what will I do about them when I face them eventually?

6. Work Hard and Do Your Homework!

Hey if you were ever a student, you probably heard this one so many times that you want to stick in the earplugs in already. Me too, but little did I realize working hard and doing your homework is for life. If you want an A+ in whatever you do in life, it applies. If for nothing else, one huge lesson I picked up from my time at UB was that hard work pays off! Major Dick Winters speaks of his time in Officer Cadet School:

“I felt like an innocent babe in the woods when I compared myself to these seasoned NCO s. What I lacked in experience, however, I compensated by studying. The one advantage I had over the other officer candidates was a college education, and I clearly understood the importance of study and doing my homework.”

His work ethic also helped him survive the war and contributed to his success as a leader.

Before the final attack at Noville, I studied the Infantry Manual for the Attack. I must have read the manual hundreds of times, but if I could glean one additional insight with another reading, perhaps I might save one more life. The bottom line is that leaders have entrusted to them the most precious commodity this country (America) possesses: the lives of America’s sons and daughters. Consequently, they must have a thorough understanding of their profession.”

We find the true value of work from what we put into it, because what you put in is what you get out of it.

7. Solitude and Careful Decision Making is Essential

In battle I periodically detached myself mentally from the noises and chaos of battle. I found it useful to separate myself momentarily and to carefully think through what actions I needed to take to accomplish the mission.” The opportunity for self analysis allows you t find your own self-consciousness, which in turn tells you if you are getting off track.” -Major Richard Winters

I have found self reflection to be the most effective form of self-improvement. We take in tons of information each day, and have to make decisions based on them. Cal Newport, author of Study Hacks, wrote a post about how a pen, paper, and a solitary environment can transform you into an A* student, or a good decision maker. Solitude and self thought was tough (and sometimes still is) for me initially, because my short term attention span usually got the best of me. With time and training, though, I was pleased with the results it yielded.


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