Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Legacy of Leadership



Everyone, I suppose, has his own definition of leadership in this highly-charged electoral year. And, no, I’m not touching politics in today’s blog or tomorrow’s or ever. But after watching several documentaries recently (courtesy of Amazon Prime), the subject of leadership has stayed in my mind.

I’m thinking in particular of Dick Winters:  Hang Tough”. 


He never set out to be a leader. He joined the Army fresh out of college, even before the United States entered World War II. After basic training, he was selected for Officer Training School and then decided to join the paratroopers. Assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (Company E, 2nd Battalion), he learned new skills. By now some of you may recognize ‘Easy Company’ of “Band of Brothers”.

When the company commander was killed on D-Day, Dick Winters took over, and his natural leadership abilities came into play. He had no agenda except doing what was necessary to win the war and getting as many of his men as possible home at the end of it. The “power” which often accompanies the position of command didn’t figure in. Liked and respected by his men, he forged ahead doing what had to be done. As one of his men said later, “I would follow you into hell.”

He continued his military career after the war but eventually went into business. It’s noted in his obit that he lectured on leadership several times to cadets at West Point. He died in 2011 from complications of Parkinsons at the age of 92. He did not live to see the unveiling of the memorial erected in honor of all leaders in Normandy. 

So what made him a leader? Not throwing his weight around. Not bullying or threats. He didn’t lead from behind. No braying or braggadocio. No slick moves to achieve notoriety or get his own way.  He just did what he had to do in the circumstances in which he found himself--and so, I believe, did the majority of those men and boys of my father’s generation who left it all--often gave all--for what we so easily dismiss and dishonor today.

Are there more like Dick Winters today? I fervently hope so.

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