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Lessons in Leadership from Major Dick Winters

In my spare time, I have a voracious appetite for reading – especially books that have to do with important times in history. My favorite topic of recent years has been everything surrounding WW2 – the geopolitical climate that led to war, how such atrocities were able to happen, how the war impacted different parts of the world and their people – I could go on. It’s a fascinating subject to me.

It is through this fascination that I happened upon a book from which I gained some of the best leadership advice I’ve ever read. From training camp in 1942 and the forming of the “Screaming Eagles” through jumping into Normandy and fighting across Europe to liberate it from evil, Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters is a fantastic book if you love history, but also a wonderful read for anyone looking to hone their leadership skills.

Does it directly apply to credit unions? Well, no. But leadership lessons can be learned in almost any situation. Winters did not believe in natural-born leaders. He believed in hard work and dedication. Here are a few of my favorite lessons and how I believe they can be applied to credit unions and their leaders within:

“Each situation is different and each requires a leader to be flexible in adapting his or her particular leadership style…to the individual. You don’t have just one way of treating people. You adjust yourself to whom you are talking.”

We are in the business of people…not checking accounts and loans. This goes for our members as well as our employees. In order to be successful, credit union leaders must learn to be great at leading their people by learning what works for each person they are leading. What motivates and inspires one employee doesn’t always work for another.

“A leader should strive to be an individual of flawless character, technical competence, and moral courage.”

This is all about trust. People must be able to trust those who are leading them, whether it is through trusting them with sensitive information or about learning how to do something unfamiliar.

“Never ask your team to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. Successful leaders must be highly visible, if for no other reason than to share the hardships.”

Leaders in every capacity expect a lot out of their employees, but we should never ask anyone to do anything we wouldn’t also do for ourselves. If your credit union is doing community events, roll up your sleeves on a Saturday morning to blow up balloons. If you are short-staffed one day, help out on the teller line to wait on members.

“Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their jobs. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination or your creativity.”

If you’ve done a good job at developing your team and hiring competent people to help run your credit union, you shouldn’t be micromanaging them. This will cause even the most talented of people to stop pushing the envelope and feel like they can’t do their jobs effectively.

“Remain humble. If you don’t worry about who gets the credit, you get a lot more done. Never let power or authority go to your head.”

Your job title doesn’t make you a leader. How you treat your coworkers and subordinates does. The best leaders provide education, direction, and support for their people, empower them to do the job, and then share in the success as a team.