“Never put yourself in a position to take from these men”

So, my blog is in serious need of content. I usually don’t like talking about myself, and I subscribe to the philosophy that I’d rather have friends than loud opinions. So, I’ve been brainstorming over the past few days about what I could post on here, and I’ve decided to talk on something the guys at my firehouse say I’m good at, leadership.

Being thrust into an officer position at such a young age, my superiors thought it important that I take several leadership and officer classes. They all had a common thread, “Band of Brothers”. I love history, so I was already familiar with the miniseries, but many of my instructors liked to use the show as teaching points for good qualities in leadership. So I think I’ll do a series on leadership lessons episode by episode. I’ve been wanting to re-watch it anyway, so it’s a win-win.

So let’s jump into it:

Episode 1 chronicles the troops of easy company from their training up to the plane ride before they jumped during the Invasion of Normandy. Training began for them at Camp Toccoa in Toccoa Georgia. While there we are introduced to 2 different types of leaders, Captain Sobel and Lieutenant Winters. These two men had completely different leadership styles.

Sobel sought to belittle and demean the men into following his orders. By making being overtly abrasive and vile he sought to instill subservience into Easy Company. Sobel seek for any and every reason to berate and demoralize his men. This contrasts directly with winters leadership style in which he seeks to motivate and empower the men. In a scene where Sobel orders the men on a 6-mile run to the top of Currahee mountain and back in the middle of dinner (Making most of them sick) Winters runs with them, even though he didn’t have to, since he was on kitchen duty.

The lesson I always took from this scene was to never ask anyone under your leadership to do something that you yourself are unwilling to do. I employ this philosophy a lot in training around the firehouse. Sometimes we design training scenarios that are overtly hard, scenarios designed to frustrate, confuse, and push the firefighter to their limits. We do this to best replicate the scenarios likely to be faced in an actual emergency. Many of the other officers take pride in pushing the less experienced members, and never undergo the same training. I however will always go through the training evolution.

This is important to keeping morale up. Another officer, we’ll call him Jim, will put our firefighters through hell, but will refuse to take part himself, and as a result, many of the members, especially the newer guys, think of him more as bully than a leader. The members assigned to him more often come to me for help than they do him (we are the same rank). I then have them ask me why I made certain decisions, criticize poor decisions I made, and every other post evolution debriefing strategy I used on them. In the end, it makes them trust me more, which is paramount in being a leader. Building your subordinate’s trust make any operation or project move smoother. It removes hesitation, and in the fire service, can make the difference between life and death.

This trust and lack thereof plays out in Band of Brothers, when the NCO’s all resign their positions after Sobel has Winters Court Martialed on false charges. Because Winters had earned the trust of his men, and Sobel had not, the men didn’t trust Sobel and were unwilling to follow his orders in actual combat. If you are leading a team, you are still a part of that team, and should never expect anything out of the other members you are unwilling to do yourself.

The next lesson learned in the first episode, (and the title to this post) comes from Winters as he scolds Lt. Buck Compton. Winters had caught Compton playing craps with the men of easy company. As he scolds Compton, Winters finishes his reprimand with the line, “What if you had won? Never put yourself in a position to take from these men.” Nothing demoralizes your subordinates like taking from them, even if you don’t realize you are.

In the firehouse, I never take credit for anything done as part of a team. I alone didn’t accomplish anything, the team did, so I make sure the team gets credit. Remember too though, a good leader should take sole responsibility for a failure on the team. If a team fails at task, it is due to the leader pushing their members beyond their capabilities, or by not setting smart goals for the group. This is the breaking point for many people in leadership positions, as leaders we will never succeed, but we always fail.

Employing these principles, as well as other, my subordinates are willing to literally follow me through fire, into conditions where their lives are in my hand, and they don’t think twice. Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll be going over leadership lessons from the next episode

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