Inspired by your team
A view from Sue Unerman

Inspired by your team

This week saw the anniversary of the D-Day landings - the invasion of Normandy that changed the course of the Second World War.

Coverage in The Guardian said: "Seventy Normandy summers ago, as the ships and planes and gliders disgorged 156,000 on to beaches and into the smoke, flames and barrage of mortar fire, victory was uncertain. So was survival. No-one escaped unscathed."

This anniversary is said to be the last when survivors could return in large numbers.

It was a moment of real courage and bravery for thousands of soldiers. On a day of immense danger for all, there was still one who stood out. He was the only soldier at D-Day who was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award in the military.

Stan Hollis was a 31-year-old sergeant major with The Green Howards when he took part in the assault on Gold Beach. As his company moved inland, he captured several gun positions and rescued two colleagues, taking more than two dozen prisoners in the process and clearing a path for his colleagues. 

Brigadier John Powell said: "Stan continued along a communication trench and, by that stage, the Germans had had enough – probably it was the terrifying sight of seeing Stan charging towards them. In all, there were about 30 prisoners.

"Now this action was immensely successful, not only did he save the lives of many in his company but, by his actions, he allowed this route up to the beach to be cleared. That was important for the success of D-Day."

His reputation and feats live on in Normandy. In fact, it is said that he's more famous in Normandy than in his home town of Middlesbrough. He was by all accounts an unassuming man, as many true heroes are.

He rarely spoke about what he had done. In one interview, he typically downplayed his bravery and talked about his team: "All these fellows were my mates… I had lived with them. Apart from the fact of being in the army, I had lived with them in civvy street before. Everybody knew everybody else, and there wasn't only me doing these things, there were other people who were doing them as well. If I hadn't done them, somebody else would have done them. There is no doubt about it. It was a case of not who would do it, just when it was done – and it would have been done by somebody else."

He summed up the event by saying that, although people called him an inspiration, he was in fact inspired by his men.

Although nothing in our business compares with Hollis' actions, this last comment resonates. There is never a training event that I'm involved in when the trainees are not immensely inspiring. The reward for judging a competition at work – whether it's a mini-pitch (our Real World Pitching annual training scheme is one of these) or presentation skills, or role reversals and the rest – is the inspiration you get from the participants.

People sometimes complain about inspirational leaders or a lack of them. Your team around you are reliably, genuinely and uniquely inspirational.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom