Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Band of Brothers - Remembering Their Leadership Legacy

Airborne logo
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recently as I watched the national evening news, the anchor announced that William “Wild Bill” Guarnere had passed away one month shy of his 91st birthday. Just a few months back, I remembered seeing the same announcement on the evening news when Edward “Babe” Heffron passed away at the age of 90. Both were lifelong friends who made their homes in Philadelphia. 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Hearing this news caused me to reflect on what I knew of the men and their story of selflessness and courage. Both men were World War II veterans who gained fame when historian Stephen Ambrose wrote Band of Brothers about their shared war experience as well as that of the others from their famed unit. 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
HBO turned the book into a highly popular Band of Brothers miniseries in 2001 and is now featured in our Leadership in Cinema library for those who would like to use it. The HBO mini-series tells the story of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army. Both Mr. Guarnere and Mr. Heffron served in the famed Easy Company during World War II, where they participated in some of the biggest battles in the European theater. They parachuted into Normandy the night before D-Day, fought in Operation Market Garden and helped hold the critical Belgian town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Guarnere’s war ended in Bastogne when he lost a leg while trying to help another wounded soldier, and he returned home having been awarded the Silver Star—the nation’s third-highest award for valor—two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat.

One of Easy Company's most charismatic officers was Major Richard “Dick” Winters, who passed away in 2011, and was a compassionate leader who entered Army service as a private and returned home after World War II as a major. The unit experienced heavy turnover because of battlefield casualties. One Easy Company soldier later wrote that among his colleagues, the Purple Heart "was not a decoration but a badge of office."

My leadership studies often lead me to other books that are related to leadership such as Band of Brothers. That is where I came across Major Winter’s book, Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Richard “Dick” Winters. Within his book Winters laid out his "10 Leadership Principles for Success" which I have share with you here:
  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 are a leader of character.
  10. Hang Tough!—Never, ever, give up.
The Leadership in Cinema Library is intended to provide a selection of films that will support continuing education efforts within the wildland fire service. Films not only entertain but also provide a medium to teach leadership at all levels in the leadership development process—self or team development. Teaching ideas are presented that work with “students of leadership in any setting.” Facilitators can adapt lesson plans to correlate with the Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles. The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program has partnered with Drexel University's LeBow College of Business, and their students are continually adding to the Leadership in Cinema library.

Leadership in Cinema is not intended to be a stand-alone leadership program; however, used in conjunction with other leadership tools, Leadership in Cinema can be a powerful self or team development tool. Successful use of the tool requires time and dedication of the facilitator. Discussion of leadership lessons within the film is vital to the program. I had just recently used Band of Brothers as a leadership development tool with my own team so Easy Company’s story was still fresh in my memory. Fire staff from the Black Hills National Forest have developed 10 lesson plans that can be used as you view the miniseries.

About the Author:
Jim McMahill is a National Park Service Regional Fire & Aviation Fire Management Officer and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions above are those of the author.

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