Leadership by “Band of Brothers”

When I first watched Band of Brothers, I thought that beyond telling the story of “easy company”, it was a series about “leadership”: inspiration, decision making, adaptation to change, persistence, perseverance, honesty, respect, creativity, solidarity etc… 

In the first episode of the serie, Captain Sobel (David Schwimmer) is in charge of “easy company”. Very quickly, as the video below shows, he loses his leadership on his men. 

He didn’t lose his leadership because he made a strategic mistake. He lost his leadership by his unability to move forward. In this example, he’s facing a fence, realizing they’re not in the right spot, and he freezes. Instead of quickly figuring out a new path, that could still take them to their goal, he’s stuck. It’s now a new environment, potentially with new rules, and he just doesn’t know what to do. Would you go to war with a leader like this? No way. Neither did those men as he got re-assigned to jump schools for medics. 

Obviously, this could be translated to the business world. A good leader is someone who can lead people to war. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckenberg, Steve Ballmer, Jeff Bezos… By their personality, and their successes, I don’t know that many people who wouldn’t follow them to war. And the minute folks don’t want to go to war with them, they will lose their job.

Yet, I think things are different in the corporate world than in the startups world. We’ve seen it many times. Someone gets a big job in a big company, and the first thing they do is bring people who follow them. It’s a sign of a good leader. But the war you go to in a big corporation is a “playstation” war. Nobody gets hurts. You get a pay check, your get your 401K, health care etc… Worse case scenario, you lose your job, and get a new one with the competiton.Very different in the startup world (at least early stage), where leaders usually ask for sacrifices, that not only impact the people involve, but also their families (no pay or small salary, no benefits, no security etc…). 

I’m not saying that they aren’t good leaders in big company (I think I’ve already said they are), but the relationship between the leaders and their followers is very different. People follow leaders in big company in the hope of some sort of security and continuity. People follow leaders in very early start-ups because they believe that person can help them win the war. Again, one is not better or worse than the other, it’s just different personalities. 

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