He was described in a Wall Street Journal article as the leader of a valiant World War II paratrooper company that became famous a half-century later in historian Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers. I first read the book while I was on active duty, and then later watched the HBO miniseries (about 10 times).
Dick Winters and his company parachuted into a village outside of Normandy behind German lines. They bravely fought battles in France, Holland, Belgium, and eventually Germany that are still talked about today at the Army’s infantry school.
When I think of Dick Winters, I can’t help but think that he was a Level 5 leader that Jim Collins so eloquently describes in his book Good to Great.
“Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredible ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”
“Those who worked with or wrote about the good-to-great leaders continually used words like quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, self-effacing, understated, and so forth.”
“The good-to-great leaders never wanted to become larger-than-life heroes. They never aspired to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons. They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.”
Dick Winters exemplified all of these descriptions. Its no wonder that even in the face of suffering near 50% casualties while fighting in Normandy, his men would follow him anywhere.