June 13, 2008

Leadership Principles of Maj. Richard Winters

If you watch the HBO series Band of Brothers, you will remember Richard Winters as a major influence in the victories and development of Easy Company. He was a great leader with a simple, effective plan. He was meticulous about his preparation; reading training manuals and battle plans throughout his endeavors. He was physically fit and knew his limitations. His men looked up to him, respected him, and knew he was a competent, skilled leader who cared for them. He led with a humility not often seen.

In his memoirs, Maj. Winters offers 10 guidelines for leadership:

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

Flawless character—start with honesty. Character provides a leader with a moral compass that focuses his efforts on the values we cherish: courage, honesty, selflessness, and respect for our fellow man. Character also allows you to make decisions quickly and correctly.

Technical competency—Those entrusted to lead must study their profession to become totally proficient in tactics and technology. Read and be prepared. You should study to develop your own personality; your own personal perspective on command.

Moral courage—means doing what you know to be right even when commanded to do different.

2. Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.
Never ask your team to do something you wouldn’t do yourself…You cannot make sound decisions unless you are at the point of attack. Leaders should always position themselves where the critical decisions must be made. Precisely where that location should be is a judgment call, but in my experience leader should be as far forward as possible. Successful leaders must be highly visible, if for no other reason than to share the hardships of their men.

3. Stay in top physical shape—physical stamina is the root of mental toughness. Physical exhaustion leads to mental fatigue.

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 and your creativity. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your team in order to assign the right men to the proper jobs. There is no need to tell someone how to do his job if you have properly trained your team.

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. Careful preparation and anticipation of potential problems eliminates many of the obstacles that one encounters on the battlefield. Good preparation is always vital to the success of any operation, but leader must remain flexible on the action commences.

7. Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head. Leaders should assume responsibility when the operation fails; when it succeeds, credit the men and women in your team. They do the lion’s share of the work. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.

8. Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best. Take a moment of self-reflection before rushing into an important decision. Many leaders don’t take the time to consider carefully their decisions or the implications of their actions. The opportunity for self-analysis allows you to find your own self-consciousness, which in turn tells you if you are getting off track. Nobody will have to tell you that the course of action that you are contemplating is incorrect or ineffective. If you take advantage of opportunities for personal reflection, and if you honestly examine yourself, you will be a more effective leader.

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

10. Hang Tough!—Never, ever give up. If you are a leader, a fellow who other fellows look to, you have got to keep going.

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  1. It's an amazing book and you're probably the only other person I know who's read it (well I didn't even read it, bough the audiobook).

    I'd recommend the book for anyone thinking of pastoring (or leadership in general). Not just for the leadership lessons but because of all the things Major Winters went through and still came out on the other side, faith in tact.

  2. I loved the book. They could have done a better writing/editing job for him. But the content and the story are amazing.I loved it.