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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Authenticity and believing what you say

Over the last few days, I’ve been developing a speech writing workshop which has involved trawling through videos on you tube to find a range of public speakers that my group can study.

In trying to get gender and political balance, I’ve had to look particularly hard for footage of women. My search eventually led me to watch some clips of Mhairi Black and I couldn’t help thinking what a great leader she is. So what does she have that makes her stand out? What is it that gives her authority and makes people want to support her?

Well, the first thing is that she commands attention. When she speaks, people listen. She’s given some great performances lately and that makes us want to hear more.

The next thing is that she comes across as standing up for people and raising issues that matter on the ground. The speeches I watched were about pensions and Trident in which she highlights the negative impact of policy decisions on constituents. She really seems to care about the issues and doing the right thing for people.

What she does very cleverly is draw comparisons with things that everyone can relate to. For example, in her speech on pensions, she talked about mobile phone contracts which made the pensions issue that is so real for the WASPI women, something which felt real to everyone listening.

And she’s inclusive. She tries to bring people together by setting out her vision and inviting others to join her by focusing on the issues and transcending political boundaries.

All of this from the youngest Member of Parliament in the House of Commons who also happens to be female and a proud LGBT rights activist. Challenging every stereotype there is around politicians, you can’t help wanting to be just like her making her a fantastic role model for others.

All of these things together, I would argue, make her an excellent example of the authentic leader we hear so much about today. She has a real sense of honesty and integrity that instils confidence.

I think it was Tony Benn who said ‘if you say what you believe and believe what you say’ you can’t go far wrong and this certainly seems to be true in this case and a truth I think all leaders would do well to keep close to their heart.
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