Major Winters’ Rules of Leadership

10 proven rules that served the Band of Brothers

By Chris Langlois  |   Jun 8, 2018

If you’ve heard about the HBO mini-series, “Band of Brothers,” then you’ve heard about Major Winters. If you haven’t watched the miniseries, you’re truly missing out on one of the most critically acclaimed and most beloved pieces of television in recent memory. Its strong fan base has the series shown yearly, both here and overseas, especially around patriotic holidays.

It’s the story of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the storied 101st Airborne during WWII. Almost each man volunteered to join the Army, each one had to again volunteer to be a paratrooper. They agreed to endure the toughest training the Army could offer and then agreed to be dropped into combat, with a guarantee to be surrounded by the enemy. They were a special and proud breed of soldier.

Leadership When It Counts

Any organization needs leadership, and in combat, leadership can save lives, or cost them.   Notice, there’s a difference between being in a leader, and having leadership skills. We have all met the “leader” who should never have been there in the first place. Easy Company learned early on at Camp Tocooa that their company commander, Capt. Herbert Sobel, had no leadership skills. Sobel shouted at the men constantly. The smallest broken rule would result in latrine duty. Then, Lieutenant Winters was second-in-command and it was easy for the troops to juxtapose him against their almost tyrannical commander. Winters, they felt, genuinely cared about their wellbeing. He was firm but fair with Army regulations.

More importantly, as Easy Company moved to England and thus, closer to invading France on D-Day, Sobel’s dismal basic infantry skills continued to instill fear, instead of confidence. They feared that Sobel’s inability to read a map or plan an attack would only get them killed in battle. How could a leader, who lacked the basic abilities required of a basic-trained private, lead them in war?! The sergeants mutinied.  The regimental commander was finally forced to remove Sobel. Easy was finally in the hands of real leadership.

D-Day thrust Winters into the company commander job and he never missed a beat.  It was a natural role for him and his on the spot actions later became a learning lesson at West Point.  Winters never let Easy Company down and his performance in battle raised him to second-in-command over the entire battalion (about 600 men).

Easy would inherit Lt. Norman Dike during the Battle of the Bulge as its commander. It was a critical time for the Allies. Hitler’s large, surprise attack caught them completely off guard. It was the worst winter in decades and the men lacked basic winter clothes, ammunition, food and medical care, and they were completely surrounded, again. The men called Dike “Foxhole Norman” since he spent his time in his foxhole, instead of leading from the front. He was another person in a leadership position who lacked leadership. During the attack on Foy, Belgium, Dike froze in the middle of an open field, with his troops taking heavy fire. As we know, sitting on the “X” is the last thing you want to do when your are in a fire fight.

Major Winters, watching the battle fall apart, needed a quick solution. He needed a leader to save the battle and to save the lives of Easy Company. Capt. Ronald Speirs was close-by and got the order to relieve Dike and resume the charge. He did just that. The men were amazed by Speirs’ bravery and followed him to victory over the Germans. There was no doubt, Speirs was a leader and had leadership skills. He would be their commander the rest of the war.

Winters was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day. It was subsequently downgraded one level to the Distinguished Service Cross. But there was little doubt that Winters was a leader and, had leadership skills. He called them, “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. The key to a successful leader is to earn respect—not because of rank or position, but because you’re a leader of character.

10. Hang Tough! Never, ever, give up.

William “Wild Bill” Guarnere had this to say of Winters: “When he said ‘Let’s go,’ he was right in the front. He was never in the back. A leader personified. He was one hell of a guy, one of the greatest soldiers I was ever under.  He was a wonderful officer, a wonderful leader.  He had what you needed, guts and brains.”

Major Winters is admired the world over for who he was and what he did. To be a successful leader, in combat especially, is no accident. It takes, certainly, some natural talent. But some of it is learned and practiced skills that we can all incorporate into our daily lives, both at home, and on the streets. Are you the leader you want to be? The leader you should be to your troops? Maybe the words of Major Winters are just what you need in order to make a change for yourself and those you lead?   Print them out and read them each day, before and after your shift. 

Conclusion

If you are one of those few who have not watched the miniseries, I would highly recommend you do. It’s a powerful story of ordinary civilians who became elite paratroopers. And, in a way, they helped save the world. Like many of us on the streets, theirs is a story of humility, courage, honor, sacrifice, duty and patriotism. Like our fallen brothers and sisters in blue, we can never forget them.