Humanity, courage and integrity: how Winters inspires values-based leadership in HBO’s Band of Brothers

From the very first episode of Band of Brothers, I have wanted to write about the leadership theme within the series and this need has grown ever stronger as the series has progressed.

In Episode 1, ‘Curahee’, we meet Captain Sobel, Commander of Easy Company whose drive for excellence makes the group of paratroopers stand out from the crowd.  The way Sobel achieves this though is through misuse of power rather than respect.  The soldiers of Easy Company think he hates them because of the way he pushes and tests them to do better all the time.

It’s also clear that the Captain is useless in the field, putting the lives of the men at risk and trying to cover up for that by exerting his authority.

An early scene shows Winters’ values, courage and integrity as he is unfairly disciplined by Sobel and rather than accept a punishment when he has done nothing wrong, he requests trial by court martial which leads to the platoon demonstrating strong support for him and really is Sobel’s downfall.

As the series progresses, we see a contrasting leadership style in Winters who starts the series as platoon leader and finishes as a Major which is demonstration of his skills.  It is the values of Winters and how they inform his actions that have inspired me to write this post. 

What you can see in Winters is that he cares about the men he is responsible for, so much that he is willing to put his own life on the line.  From the beginning, he demonstrates great courage and as a result, they trust and follow him.

In Episode 2, ‘Day of Days’, Winters charges ahead and tells them to only follow on his command.  In Episode 7, ‘The Breaking Point, he can see that the Officer in charge – Officer Dyke – is being completely ineffective and putting lives at risk so he starts to run towards them to take over only to be reminded of his post at which point he promptly orders someone else to go and takeover.

The ultimate example for me was in Episode 8, ‘The Last Patrol’, one of the later episodes when he effectively disobeys orders to prevent needless deaths.  At this point in the series, they are extremely close to defeating the Germans and ending the war.  The night before, they had been asked to send a patrol to capture German soldiers that they know have based themselves in a building the other side of a river in the French town of Hagenau. 

A patrol is chosen and they complete the mission with just one life lost.  Because they achieved a good outcome, Lieutenant Colonel Sink commands that another patrol be scheduled for a second night.  All are dismayed and Winters cannot see anything further to be gained from sending a patrol for a second night.  They have taken prisoners from the first mission and capturing more would not give them any additional intelligence.  When Winters brings the men together, he gives instruction of the mission in line with his orders. He then goes on to tell them to get a full night’s sleep and report to him in the morning that they went on patrol but were unable to take any prisoners.  This to me is evidence that he cares about the men and values their lives.  So much that he is willing to risk his own career by disobeying what they all thought were unnecessary orders. 

Many of the men at Hagenau had been on the frontline, in battle, many times and Winters believed it was a high price for them to lose their lives so close to the end of the war when there was nothing to be gained from the mission.  To me, this act showed courage and integrity, saving the lives of his men.

Whilst I’m sure there may have been some artistic license used in making this series, the characters portrayed are from true life and provide narrative around the drama.  Richard ‘Dick’ Winters was recognised many times through awards for his contribution.  Despite this, Winters remained humble about his military service.  At the end of the series, Winters quotes a passage from Sergeant Myron “Mike” Ranney: “I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said ‘No…but I served in a company of heroes’.”

Whilst I read extensively about human rights and the effects of war, I was unsure about whether this series would be for me.  What I discovered was an inspirational story of humanity, courage and leadership which I felt compelled to share with others.

END NOTE: This blog post marks Remembrance Day 2020 and is published in memory of all those who gave their lives so that we can be free.

This year, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the Royal British Legion is relying on digital donations to support their annual Poppy Appeal which supports members of the armed forces and their families. If you have something to spare, please donate here.

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What makes a true leader? Fancy job title, fat salary or the courage to stand up for what you believe in?

Watching President Trump’s inauguration and the events that have followed has made me think about the history of the civil rights movement in America. It’s clear to see that civil rights and human rights in the US are at threat under the new president. His first day was marked by women’s marches in major cities throughout the world and he is already taking forward decisions that many people feared.

The first action has been to sign an executive order begin the process to repeal Obamacare. He has reinstated the Mexico City Policy known as the Global Gag rule which withholds US foreign aid money to NGOs that provide abortions and abortion counselling. He has signed two executive orders which will build that wall he’s talked so much about, boost border patrol forces and increase the number of immigration enforcement officers who carry out deportations. And today he has been advocating torture which has made me especially glad to be an Amnesty International donor!

All of this has driven me to rewatch films like Selma and The Help to remind me of how far America has come and how much it has to lose. In turn, these films have reminded me of a key leadership quality – the courage of conviction and willingness to risk everything to defend what you believe in. This is what marks out the great leaders of the world.

Nelson Mandela gave a 3 hour speech at the Rivonia Trial in 1964 where he and others were accused of sabotage. He concluded his speech by setting out his vision for equality and harmony. So strong was his belief that he finished his speech saying that he would give his life to achieve the ideal he dreamed of:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. Nelson Mandela, 1964

In the film Selma, directed by Ava Duvernay, we see the great Martin Luther King lead a march from Selma to Montgomery which had been prevented previously by state troupers by force of violence. During his campaign for civil rights, King was arrested many times, had his house bombed and was finally assassinated in 1968. He believed so much that what he was calling for was the right thing that he continued even though he risked his own personal safety and freedom.

Disney’s The Help portrays the same conviction when a budding journalist asks the African-American maids to tell their stories. In the film, the women she interviewed knew that they were likely to lose their jobs if they were identified, they could have their house burned down or even be killed for telling their story. They did it anyway and showed great courage in doing so.

And that’s it for me – a fundamental leadership quality – the courage to stand up for what you believe in regardless of the consequences. If we didn’t have people like that, we would never achieve any change. These leaders often are not the leaders with the fancy job title and fat salary. These are community leaders and individuals who are willing to put themselves on the line to speak out against injustice. Those people are the real leaders in our society.

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