We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Leadership

The other day, I was watching the “Day of Days” episode of Band of Brothers. I was struck yet again how good a job they do of demonstrating leadership.

In my years as a Scoutmaster, I was always looking for ways to make the lessons I’d learned on leadership strike home with the Scouts. Despite the fact that I am a voracious reader, I have never been able to read through any book on leadership other than the ones published by the Boy Scouts. Those spend a lot of time on the organizational roles and not so much time on how to lead. So, though I put copies of those books into Scouts’ hands when they take their Junior Leadership Training classes, I know they won’t learn a lot about how to lead from them. When I teach the classes, the Scouts have trouble absorbing best practices in leadership when it’s theoretical as well as when “role-playing” a leadership situation.

So, when Band of Brothers came out and I watched Lieutenant Dike fail in the attack on Foy, I knew there were some lessons there about leadership. So, I began using that as a visual tool for them to see good and bad leadership techniques. Watching Winters prepare Dike you see a variety of techniques from Winters to try to ensure Dike’s success, from expressing confidence to ensuring he understands and including physical reinforcement as he pats him on the back. Dike flops in a colossal manner and we see Winters torn about what to do. The Scouts are certain to experience nearly every angle of that sequence of events during their career in Scouting (except for the part about getting shot at!) Spiers demonstrates marvelous calm leadership and demonstrates personal commitment to the task. Watching all of that and discussing it turned on far more lightbulbs than I’d ever seen without that video sequence as tool.

I always encourage the Scouts at the end of that video session to start paying attention to the leaders in the war movies they watch. Which of them are effective? What techniques do they use? Will those work for them? Boys may watch war movies twenty times, memorizing lines and being able to tell you who did what at every step of the way, but without this higher focus on leadership, it’s just entertainment to them.

So, the other day, watching Lieutenant Winters and Private Hall, moments after they’ve landed, Band of Brothers instantly demonstrates why Winters really is a leader. They aren’t simply going to tell us the men respected and followed him. They are going to demonstrate Why they do. Hall is very jittery in this scene, worried that he’s lost his radio and that his Lieutenant is going to yell at him. Winters assures him that he’s a rifleman first (guess the Marines have the right idea!), but Hall remains unsettled by the fact that they’re lost. Winters then uses a time-tested military leadership technique – if someone is busy thinking themselves into worry, give them something to do! He also does it in a decidedly friendly way. He asks Hall to watch out for landmarks and, as he goes through the list of potential landmarks, he even injects humor, asking him to look for familiar trees. Right there, he’s won Hall over and when he sticks around for Brecourt Manor, it makes complete sense to us.

I drew the name for this blog from that scene. While in Normandy, our tour guide, Dale Booth told us that the confusion about John D. Hall or John D. Halls misses out on the fact that the soldier was actually a Sargeant, not a private, so my blog changes Winters’ line from “We’re not lost, Private. We’re in Normandy.”

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