Every Memorial Day weekend, since the movie Saving Private Ryan first came out, I have made it a habit to watch it again. Since the first time I viewed it, I became more aware of the price men and women past and present, have paid to help ensure our freedom we enjoy today. From the opening scenes on Omaha Beach to the closing scene with Private Ryan visiting the cemetery with his family to pay his respects to his leader, the late Captain John Miller, I was more aware and moved than anything I had scene before. But I also could not help but notice some recurring themes of what makes great leaders from some of the most ordinary, normal and humble men.
Seven Things to Remember and Emulate from Saving Private Ryan
- Lead By Example – The absolute best leaders are those that never ask someone on their team to do something they themselves would not be willing to do. Capt. Miller exemplified that by charging ahead into the artillery fire and bombardment of the beach, just like he needed and expected his men to do. And follow his lead they did indeed, no matter the fear they were feeling.
- Honesty is THE Best Policy – The classic example of that would be when Capt. Miller diffused a highly combustible situation among his own men over whether or not to release the German soldier just captured. How? He revealed his true self. He was genuine, authentic and open. A real person just like them. It worked.
- Sometimes We Just Have to Follow The Mission – There were several instances where, despite a potential lack of confidence or belief in their mission, the Captain never showed that to his team. The wrong words and actions as a leader can destroy a mission in no time. Remember, when the leader, all eyes are on you. Always.
- Establish Authority and Create Purpose – One key lesson shown over and over again is that every member on the team has a role and a purpose, no matter how many stripes they have on their shoulder. All are equal partners and cogs in the wheel. Without this, they have no chance of successfully completing their mission.
- Learn From Your Mistakes- An old saying goes that if you are not making mistakes, you’re not really trying hard enough. The whole key, as exemplified in the movie, is to analyze and learn from your mistakes so as not to repeat them and to have more success in the same scenario down the road.
- Leaders Exist at ALL Levels – Every member of that team exhibited leadership through their own actions and/or words. Each with their own style, but all with a common goal of completing the task at hand, as a team.
- Leaders are GREAT Listeners – Many people that fancy themselves as leaders think THEY have to have all the answers. Great leaders, especially Capt. John Miller, were not afraid to seek counsel, ask for feedback, suggestions, or ideas. Great leaders not only ask, they then listen, process and take action from that.
Personally, despite the violence, blood and guts shown in the movie I wish every school kid in the USA, at a certain age, was made to watch this movie as a part of their curriculum. It certainly drives home many lessons I think get forgotten all too often today. And it COULD help to also spark some great leaders of tomorrow. I know every time I watch it I am moved to tears at the end. It makes me contemplate and appreciate even more all the things that I have today and all too often take for granted. Thanks to some great leaders in our past.