Leadership from the Biggest Brother

This is an excerpt from the, as yet unpublished, book Leadership from the Biggest Brother. Major Richard Winters passed away January 2, 2011 at the age of 92.

Dick Winters looked to the west as the C-47 headed south and east toward the coast. The sun was setting here. It was still shining back home. It was lunchtime at his parents’ house in Pennsylvania. It was dawn in California. It was quiet back home. But where he was – flying over Upottery Field in England, it was very busy in the failing light of June 5, 1944.

Winters was the last one on the plane and he would be the first one to jump out. He was part of the first stages of the largest invasion force the world had ever seen. He was scared but he did his best to keep his fear under control. He had been training for nearly two years for this moment. All those runs up Mt. Currahee at Camp Teccoa. All the exercises under the leadership of Herbert Sobel, C.O. of Easy Company, Robert Strayer, Battalion Commander and Robert Sink, Regimental Commander made Winters and the men of Easy Company tough, confident, and ready to do what they were called upon to do – nothing less than save the world from the evils of Nazi Germany.

Richard Winters was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and grew up in nearby Ephrata. He graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1941 with a degree in business; while in college, Winters painted electrical towers for extra money. There was nothing special about him, at least nothing we would associate with being special. He was just an ordinary man.

Dick Winters enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1941, thinking he would get his one year required duty out of the way and then get on with his life. December 7th changed all that. After basic training he entered Officer Candidate School and upon graduation and commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant, he volunteered for paratrooper training. He was made executive officer in Easy Company – the group of men who would forever be known as “The Band of Brothers.”

On D-Day, when the CO of Easy Company – Thomas Meehan’s – plane was shot down and all aboard were killed, Winters became the CO.

Winters was gifted by God with leadership. This would be put to the test throughout France, Holland, and eventually Germany.

Dick Winters would later identify qualities of leadership. It was these qualities that caused the men under his command to follow him into bloody battles that would become vital to bringing victory to the Allies in World War II.

Why another book on leadership? There certainly are a lot of books on leadership available today. Yet, all it takes is to watch the evening news or read the newspaper to know that leadership is in short supply in the world today. Not only on the nation and international level, but also in our homes and families.

So, that’s why another book on leadership. But why Dick Winters? Why use him as the basis of this book?

I first saw the T.V. mini-series Band of Brothers when it was re-broadcast on the free T.V. channels (it was originally broadcast on the HBO premium cable channel). I was blown away by the whole thing. The acting – in my opinion – was suburb. The action seemed authentic, not “Hollywood.” But what I loved the most and what affected me the most were the introductions made by several older men at the beginning of each episode. Only by the end of the 10th episode do you find out that these were the actual men portrayed by actors in the mini-series. These were real people. They really did live. They watched their friends get wounded and die. They lived to tell their story.

These were men who fought in World War II just like my grandfather and great-uncle did.

I never heard “war stories” from my grandfather before he died in the 1987. I never knew my great-uncle as he died in 1945 on the beach of Iwo Jima. But after watching Band of Brothers, I felt I knew something more about these two men in my family. My grandfather served in the 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army (the “Big Red One”) and stormed the beaches of Normandy at Omaha Beach and also fought in the Ardennes during the “Battle of the Bulge” – both of these battles form an integral part of Band of Brothers.

I went on to read as many of the books of the men of Easy Company that I could, beginning with the war memoirs of Dick Winters. Included as an appendix to Winters’ book is an essay he wrote about leadership. In it he gives ten principles of success based on his war experiences.

Right before I saw and read about the Band of Brothers, I started True Men Ministries because I wanted to see men step up in their roles of leadership in their marriages and in their families. If that were to happen, then it would also happen in our churches, schools, communities, and ultimately, in our nation.

We live in a world that is at war. I don’t mean the conflicts that are being waged across the world in various places like Iraq or Afghanistan, but something that is happening closer to home. We are in a world at war against evil.

In Ephesians 6, St. Paul writes, “10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

And even though St. Paul wrote this nearly two thousand years ago, it is still true today. And still the world is looking for a few good men to be the leaders we so desperately need. Evil is running rampant in our streets. We did not make this war. But we are called to bring the war to the enemy and to be successful we need to learn and live leadership as God intended.

This book will explore the 10 qualities of leadership taken from Leadership at the Point of the Bayonet: Ten Principles for Success. [From Beyond Band of Brothers, The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters, by Dick Winters and Col. Cole C. Kingseed. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 2006. page 293.]

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 and 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. They 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.

I’ve read numerous books on leadership from sources that I trust. I’ve read books written by other pastors and Christian leaders. I’ve read books about the leadership of Presidents of the United States like Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman.

But Dick Winters is different. He was “just a man.” He wasn’t a pastor. He didn’t hold high political office (or any political office). He was just a young man who volunteered to serve in his nation’s military and was thrust into a leadership role that he accepted whole-heartedly.

As a Christian man, Dick Winters undoubtedly was instilled with the gift of leadership from the Holy Spirit. But he also honed his leadership craft over time.

He wrote about this in his memoirs when he talked about where he lived while stationed in England in 1943.

“Life with the Barneses suited me perfectly. I greatly appreciated what Francis Barnes and his wife were doing for me. They provided me a home, a family, and a fireplace to come to at the end of a day’s training. They adopted me as a son. Francis Barnes was a lay preacher at one of Aldbourne’s three churches. On Sundays I always had a special invitation to come to their church. Mr. Barnes would preach the sermon, Mrs. Barnes played the organ, and I wore my best dress uniform and sat front and center. Most Sundays I was the only soldier in church, but I know that without a spoken word, everybody knew my lifestyle.

“My association with the Barnes family was one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life. They prepared me mentally for the tasks that lay ahead. I had observed their personal suffering at the loss of their son and experienced similar feelings when I lost some of my men in Normandy and the subsequent campaigns. By giving me time to reflect and to study my manuals for the nine months prior to the invasion, the Barneses helped me develop my own personality and hone my leadership skills. This formative period of my life was very important in continuing to build the fundamental characteristics my parents had initiated, and they helped shape my life. Today I realize what the Barnes family did was help me develop the most fundamental element in good leadership—lead by example, live by setting a good example. They lived for nearly ten years after the war, and I still treasure the mementoes that they gave me.” [Dick Winters, Beyond Band of Brothers, page 52-53]

Let’s see how we can develop our skills as leaders from this leader of men of a by-gone era.

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