Archives For Leadership

Over the 4th of July drive this past week I listened to the audiobook of Conversations with Major Dick Winters: Life Lessons from the Commander of Band of Brothers.

For those of you who have watched the Emmy-award winning HBO Mini-series, Band of Brothers, or read the book of the same name by Stephen Ambrose, you know Major Winters. His life has been well documented to this point through that story as well as his memoirs, Beyond Band of Brothers

urlFollowing the publication of Beyond Band of Brothers, Conversations was a book Major Winters wanted to have written after spending hundreds of hours with Col. Cole Kingseed. There were lessons through Major Winters’ life that needed to be told.

Watching Band of Brothers is something I recommend any person to do whether they are interested in military history, or not. At least do it for the sake of honoring those who served World War II. The book made Easy Company famous. Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg through the mini-series helped make the company legendary. Thousands of baby boomers and people my age were given a unique view into their epic journey from Airborne training, Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, and on to taking Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at the end of the war.

In the audiobook, Winters’ leadership principles were shared, as in Beyond Band of Brothers, and I think it is worth sharing with you. No matter your role in life, it is important to understand what it takes to lead. The military life can teach us a lot of things perhaps because the pressures seem greatest.

I have appreciated Major Winters  because of his “quiet strength” as a leader. Actor Damian Lewis played this very well on-screen in the mini-series.

I am humbled because as a leader I have far from mastered these lessons but they are principles that I need to be reminded of and develop on a daily basis. These lessons are applicable to any leader and not limited to the battlefield.

In the words of Major Winters, “Hang tough”.

Leadership At The Point Of a Bayonet

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 job. 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.

As a student of American History, I find it fascinating to learn from key figures who have shaped our nation over the past almost 250 years.

Reading about FDR, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Reagan, Kennedy, Jefferson, and Jackson is intriguing and each one has many admirable qualities. Each has shaped the nation based on the circumstances presented before them.

There is one who set the precedent for all of them, though: George Washington.

Washington today is often seen as a mythical yet distant figure since we get to stare at his face on the one dollar bill, quarter, and other official government documents. But we would be doing a disservice to him if we didn’t understand what separated him from other leaders.

George Washington was an admirable man because of his excellent leadership qualities but what separated him from most was his humility.

The Prayer at Valley Forge, Arnold Friberg's most well known painting. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Prayer at Valley Forge, Arnold Friberg’s most well-known painting. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Even at the height of his power, Washington set the tone for what being the leader of the President of the United States of America meant. In Europe at the time, the highest power in a nation was typically monarchial. Washington saw his position as a public servant. Although the power of the Presidency has ebbed and flowed over the past two centuries, what echoes most loudly is Washington’s humility.

Indeed, his humility was as much, perhaps even more so, a part of his greatness.

Here are 5 ways we can learn from Washington’s humility. 

  • Reluctance for Power: In 1783 when the war ended, Washington went back to his plantation in Virginia as a farmer. Five years later, he was quite pleased with his life, even despite the war’s fanfare. But he recognized that people needed him and he gave up a very comfortable life to come back to lead the nation in its infancy. It is easy to desire power but it must be at the right time and place and unless we are rooted in humility like Washington, we will fail.
  • Limited Service: Washington only served two terms in office. He saw the position as temporary and realized that the position was more important than his name. Presidents for the most part have followed his example since then. Our time on earth is short so it is important to always look at how we are training the next level of leaders to follow us.
  • A Man of the People: He dressed in civilian clothes as President. He was encouraged by some to wear his military uniform but he felt it would look too much like a military dictatorship and like most of Europe’s leadership. No matter our roles in life, we must always treat others with respect and dignity like Washington.
  • The Name of the President: He refused to be called a monarch or a more eloquent name like “His Majesty”, despite what John Adams and Alexander Hamilton wanted. He simply wanted to be called “Mr. President”. Washington was a man of deep Christian faith and was known to be in prayer often recognizing God’s power over his role. People follow courage and humility, not just titles.
  • Lead in the Hard Times: In the winter of 1777-78, Washington’s camp was at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. During this incredibly harsh winter, Washington was found to consistently walk through the camp to encourage and engage with his troops. He was never afraid to lead with them and not from behind.

Last, I found this story (more myth but the spirit is true) about Washington that reveals a lot about his servant leadership.

Once upon a time a rider came across a few soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log of wood without success.

The corporal was standing by just watching as the men struggled.

The rider couldn’t believe it. He finally asked the corporal why he wasn’t helping.

The corporal replied: “I am the corporal. I give orders.

The rider said nothing in response. Instead he dismounted his horse. He went up and stood by the soldiers and as they tried to lift the wood and he helped them.

With his help, the task was finally able to be carried out.

Who was this kind rider?

The rider was George Washington, the Commander-in-chief.

He quietly mounted his horse and went to the corporal and said, “The next time your men need help, send for the commander-in-chief.”

But the humble will inherit the land and will enjoy abundant prosperity. – Psalm 37:11

To learn more about George Washington, I recommend you to read a fascinating narrative of his life, “His Excellency” by Joseph J. Ellis.

You had to have been hiding under a rock or not care to notice but this past week a big election occurred here in the United Staes.  However you feel about the outcome there is no doubt that there were clear priorities set forth by politicians.  You heard about the economy and tea, health care and death panels, as well as immigration and Mexican drug lords.

What you didn’t hear much about is that there are still troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan not to mention a presence in areas like Germany, South Korea, Okinawa, or Guantanamo Bay.

Why do we forget so quickly?   Let us honor the military by studying what works so well for them so we can find ways to solve problems in our own unique situations.

I recently picked up a copy of the Harvard Business Review primarily because of the cover story about “Leadership Lessons from The Military”.  Here are the key learnings:

According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 82% of respondents expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military, whereas only 16% expressed confidence in big business.  There have been some tremendous leaders in our history that came from a military background.  Let us not forget Presidents George Washington, Harry Truman, or Dwight Eisenhower and the leadership lessons they gave us based on their military experiences.  Of course there have been poor military leaders so we can learn from their mistakes as well.  General Petraeus, we are learning from you.

In the article, there were some helpful elements that those church, community and business leaders can utilize to be effective with your teams.

1.  Meet the troops: Create a personal link that will be crucial to lead people through challenging times.

2.  Make Decisions: Make good and timely calls which will be the crux of responsibility in a leadership position.

3.  Focus on Mission: Establish a common purpose, lift up those who will help you achieve it, and eschew personal gain.

4.  Convey Strategic Intent: Make the objectives clear, but avoid micromanaging those who will execute on them.

November 11th is Veteran’s Day. What is different about this day?  Well the idea is to celebrate and thank those who are still alive but have served.  It was originally known as Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I.  It is different than Memorial Day because we have the chance to honor these people in person. There are over 23 million veterans of the US Military so plenty to honor.

What will you do to honor veterans this week?

*I am giving out 2 signed copies of The American Patriot’s Almanac. I am looking for unique ways that you all are honoring veterans so it is a bit subjective.  For full disclosure, I have worked on the promotions in the past for this book and with Bill Bennett and John Cribb who compiled it.  I would also like to share your stories with them.   The authors have graciously signed copies for veterans within Thomas Nelson.

To learn more about Veteran’s Day, here is an excerpt from The American Patriot’s Almanac (2010) by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb.

In the early morning hours Of November 11, 1918, representatives of France, Britain, and Germany met in a railroad car near Compiègne, France, to sign an armistice ending World War I, or the Great War, as it was known at that time. The cease-fire took effect at 11:00 a.m. that day—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Up and down the trenches, after four long years of the most horrific fighting the world had yet known, the guns fell silent. “The roar stopped like a motor car hitting a wall,” one U.S. soldier wrote to his family. Soldiers on both sides slowly climbed out of the earthworks. Some danced; some cheered; some cried for joy; some stood numbed. The Great War had left some 9 million soldiers dead and another 21 million wounded. No one knows how many millions of civilians died. Much of Europe lay in ruins. But finally, with the armistice, it was “all quiet on the Western Front.”

For many years November 11 was known as Armistice Day to honor those who fought in World War I. In 1954 Congress changed the name to Veterans Day to recognize all American veterans.

Every November 11 at 11:00 a.m., the nation pays tribute to its war dead with the laying of a presidential wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C.

But Veterans Day honors more than the dead. Memorial Day, observed in May, is for remembering soldiers who lost their lives in the service of their country. Veterans Day is set aside to honor and thank all who have served in the U.S. armed forces—particularly our 23 million living veterans.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America