Leadership as Defined and Depicted so Well by a Normandy War Memorial

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Regular readers will realize I've been away from the blog a lot this month. I was fortunate to get away for two weeks of vacation in Spain and France with family and friends. Blog readership is always low in July, so I know a lot of you were busy with summer things or vacations and probably didn't miss me or Lean, LOL.

Much of our trip was fun and indulgent, including sorta “gemba visits” to wineries in both countries (I mean “bodegas” and “chateaux”).

Since we were in the west of France, my wife and I finally found an opportunity to visit a “bucket list” destination — the Normandy beaches and the D-Day commemorative and memorial sites.

We visited somber sites including Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, and the Normandy American Cemetary. The sacrifice and valor demonstrated on June 6, 1944 (and the following months) are difficult for a guy like me to imagine. I felt a bit unworthy to stand on such hallowed ground.

Early in the day, our guide brought us to this monument that's pictured below. I believe it's just a few years old. Yes, it was dedicated to Major Richard Winters in 2012. Learn more about Maj. Winters via Wikipedia.

“As first lieutenant, Winters parachuted into Normandy in the early hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944, and later fought across France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and eventually Germany.”

Click on any photo for a larger view…

Here is a close up photo from a different angle showing the date of 6-6-44.

Here is the plaque with Major Richards' story:

The monument “depicts Winters leading his men into combat.”

It's said:

“It's a well-deserved memorial, especially for the subject of leadership — not just for Dick Winters, but for the leadership provided by young men who were practically no older than the guys they were leading into battle.” 

“He was thrust into a position of leadership,” Suerth said. “All of us have the ability to develop our leadership skills. Some do it better than others. Dick excelled at it.”

It's a monument to leadership, not just Maj. Winters. There's a quote from him:

“Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in good men.”

At the risk of overgeneralizing, maybe the same can be said about other crisis moments or emergencies that people face.

I'm glad our guide had us walk around to the “back side” of the monument, otherwise, I might have missed the key point of it all, as pictured below:

The word “LEADERSHIP” is very intentionally displayed from this view, our guide told us.

Scroll up and look at that view again.

It depicts a leader who is, quite literally, leading the way.

The best leaders lead by example, in any setting. This is true in battle (or so I would suspect, having no first-hand experience there) and it's definitely true with Lean and other transformation change efforts.

Real leaders don't tell others, “Change is great… you go first.”

Monuments like this are humbling. Not because they glorify war, but because they glorify leadership, honor, and sacrifice. It makes one wonder how one would perform in those same circumstances. Would we become great leaders… or would we shrivel under the pressure?

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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