One-sentence Lesson on Leadership

Last night I started re-watching HBO‘s fantastic WWII miniseries Band of Brothers. I’m part-way through the second episode–I would have continued watching but it was already passed my bedtime!–but there was a scene, and in particular a line, in the first episode that really struck me as a great encapsulation of what it means to be a leader.

While driving across the base, Lt. Winters admonishes 2nd Lt. Buck Compton for gambling with his men. Compton protests, saying that soldiers gamble and he was just spending some time getting to know his men.

At this point we get a glimpse of Lt. Compton’s leadership style as he offers up his justification for his actions. He was getting to know his men, he says; where’s the harm in that? It’s what soldiers do, he explains. He obviously wants to be a good leader and believes that relating with his men on a more personal level will pay dividends in loyalty, dedication, etc. These are reasonable ends, and his style is probably increasingly familiar to most of us in modern office life.

However, as the scene nears its conclusion, Lt. Winters asks bluntly, “what if you’d have won?” Lt. Compton is confused. The jeep comes to a stop. Exiting the vehicle Lt. Winters turns and delivers his one-sentence lesson on leadership: “Never put yourself in a position where you can take from these men.”

With this simple statement Lt. Winters pinpoints the essence of leadership: service. Leaders exist to serve, not to be served. To say this is lost on a lot of people is an understatement. Of course the drama and gravity of being at war lends the comment a bit more weight, but even in the most mundane of office settings, it still holds true.

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