Read an Excerpt
"When did you realize that your grandfather was a great man?"
This is a question I am often asked and one that I find impossible to answer.
I only knew one of my grandfathers and quite naturally assumed that he was like any other grandfather. I never gave it much thought, but if I had to describe a grandfather he would have been a loving and much-loved man, dressed in a siren suit, puffing a huge cigar, with everyone-secretaries, colleagues, friends, and family-running around trying to make his life as comfortable and easy as possible.
He was a man who seemed to have endless knowledge and interests, who recited poetry, made people laugh; and loved animals, walking around his garden at Chartwell, and above all, painting.
One day a present arrived with the message: "Please look after him for me, Your Loving Grandpapa."
In feverish excitement I unwrapped a strangely shaped parcel and found inside a lifesize toy bulldog with a head that moved from side to side when it was pulled along on the wheels set into its paws. My mother explained that someone had sent this to grandpapa and he thought that I might like it. I did but wanted to know why anyone would send him a toy dog. Armed with the explanation that during the war he had been described as a bulldog I set off for school determined to find out what sort of dogs my friends had for grandfathers!
Little by little it dawned on me that there was something very special about my mother's father with whom we spent a lot of time while we were growing up.
Part of this was a gradual realization that other people regarded and treated him as though he were some kind of god. They talked to him and about him in a very special way. As I grew up, he grew old and it was about this time that I began to understand how much he had done for his country and the world.
A year before the terrible events of September 11, I had decided to write this book. I had the good fortune to meet Jonathan Littman, and we decided to form an Anglo-American alliance.
We believe that the legacy of Winston Churchill as an inspiring example of leadership is as relevant today as it was sixty years ago. This was borne out in the aftermath of September 11 when the speeches of both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair took inspiration from his famous wartime speeches. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said: "Winston Churchill is my great hero. I modeled myself on him. He helped me a lot before, during, and after [the attacks]." There were notices in New York shop windows repeating his advice to the boys of Harrow, his old school, after it had been bombed in 1940: "Never, never give in."
For two weeks following the terrorist attacks The Churchill Center was kept busy attributing Churchill quotations for everyone from the White House staff to the New York Times.
Winston Churchill was like every one of us, a unique person. He was above all a very human man who lived life to the full and enjoyed everything he did. A man who believed in truth, courage, and loyalty.
He was not afraid to show his emotions. Anyone who is old enough to remember will recall exactly where they were on the day President Kennedy died. I was with my grandfather in his London house. I had never seen him watch television before, but on that day it was firmly placed on the dining room table and we watched as the tragic story unfolded before our eyes. Tears poured down his face as the news came that the young president was dead, and once more when we watched his beautiful widow, still dressed in her blood-stained clothes, witnessing the swearing in of the new president.
I soon realized that I must treasure these moments when I had to myself the man the whole world thought they owned.
I am lucky to have known and loved Winston Churchill. I hope that in this book you, too, will discover the qualities which made him great.
Any present or future leader can learn and find inspiration from his example.
Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.
-Winston Churchill, Great Contemporaries, 1937
A number of men might have come forward to lead Britain in the spring of 1940. Most of the candidates had shunned Winston Churchill for years. Yet when defeat stared Britain in the face, it was to him that the nation turned. Why?
For one thing, he understood war from top to bottom-as a journalist, a soldier, a field commander, and an administrator. He knew how armies worked, and knew the factors that helped them win.
For another, his knowledge fed his innate optimism-and he knew how to communicate both. When he said it was possible to defeat the Nazi juggernaut, the people believed him.
The outlook was bleak. The Nazis were running over France, Belgium, and Holland. Joseph P. Kennedy, the American ambassador in London, told Washington that Britain was finished.
But on May 10, as he assumed the crucial position of wartime Prime Minister, Churchill felt no fear. Instead, he wrote, he became "conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene."
How is that possible? How could any man feel so prepared for such a monumental task?
The short answer is that he had spent his entire life preparing to lead. But how did he prepare? And once in position, how did he lead? We'll take a close look at his mettle and his methods-at the qualities that made him a great leader just when the world required greatness. There was only one Winston Churchill. But the lessons of his challenging life offer modern leaders a treasure to draw on.
We begin with that most precious commodity: courage. Churchill was clearly a man of extraordinary valor. There are a hundred examples of his courage, but General Douglas MacArthur struck on one-the arduous flights Churchill took during the war to Russia, to shore up the crucial alliance with Stalin. "If disposal of all the Allied decorations were today placed by Providence in my hands, my first act would be to award the Victoria Cross to Winston Churchill," said the general. "Not one of those who wear it deserves it more than he. A flight of 10,000 miles through hostile and foreign skies may be the duty of young pilots, but for a Statesman burdened with the world's cares it is an act of inspiring gallantry and valor."
From his earliest days Churchill had worked to develop his reserves of courage. Throughout his life, he chose experiences for their ability to steel, and show, his will.
A successful life in business requires more courage than most people imagine. Executives must routinely resolve crises. An important subordinate may challenge your authority or threaten to quit. You might have to confront someone whose performance is lacking, or take a leap of faith on a new market. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan write of the central role of courage in their book, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. "Everyone pays lip service to the idea that leading an organization requires strength of character. In execution it's absolutely critical. Without what we call emotional fortitude, you can't be honest with yourself, deal honestly with business and organizational realities, or give people forthright assessments....If you can't do these things you can't execute."
Some call it character, others emotional fortitude. Whatever one calls it, the conventional wisdom holds that courage is like creativity-one either has it or lacks it. You can't build courage as you would build a muscle, can you?
Churchill decided that he could. And he needed to do so, for circumstances had given him a steep mountain to climb. His gifted father harped on his inferior school marks. His beautiful mother did not spare enough time to give him the attention he craved. "I loved her dearly," he later wrote, "but at a distance." Frail and sickly as a child, he had a speech impediment.
In the 1890s, the British Empire was still vast, and its people still celebrated war as a noble undertaking. Poor at football and cricket, Churchill learned to excel at sports that translated directly to the battlefield. At Harrow School he became a crack shot in the Rifle Corps. In his final year there, he competed in the national fencing championship for private schools. Boldly attacking bigger, stronger boys, he defeated four opponents to emerge victorious. "Churchill must be congratulated on his success over all his opponents in the fencing line, many of whom must have been much taller and more formidable than himself," announced the school magazine, adding that it was his "quick and dashing attack which quite took his opponents by surprise." At the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, he became a talented horseman and, as a young cavalry officer in India, a high-handicap polo player, in the days when skill at equestrian sports was a reflection of military superiority.
Today the fast track in business begins with earning an MBA from a top university or cutting your teeth in a demanding managerial position. In Churchill's age the path to satisfying one's ambition was less clear. Needing to make his name, he displayed verve in combat. "I am more ambitious for a reputation for personal courage," young Winston wrote to his mother "than anything else in the world." Churchill knew he might be killed in battle, but reckoned, "I shall come back afterwards the wiser and the stronger for my gamble."
Courage is no stranger among leaders. Franklin D. Roosevelt had to face the debilitating onslaught of polio. Andy Grove of Intel had to escape the Nazis as a child and then the Communists as a young man. Churchill considered courage a tangible asset. On the North-West Frontier of India (now part of Pakistan) he was shocked to see British soldiers abandon their wounded officer to the mercy of ruthless tribesmen. The twenty-two-year-old Churchill risked his own life to save the adjutant, holding off the enemy at close quarters with shots from his revolver. He was equally daring with his words, criticizing without fear or favor anything he found deficient, from the behavior of the troops to the atrocious food. Detractors dubbed him a "publicity hound," but Churchill seemed made for war. In a dispatch a general noted with pleasure "the courage and resolution of W.L.S. Churchill, 4th Hussars."
As James MacGregor Burns writes in Leadership, "Leaders, whatever their professions of harmony, do not shun conflict; they confront it, exploit it, ultimately embody it." This was certainly true of Churchill. In the outposts of the British Empire, the dashing soldier began to forge the character that would one day enable him to bear the weight of the free world on his shoulders.
"It was a lively day," he wrote of combat in India. "I was personally under fire from 7.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. without a stop, though of course it varied. I rode on my grey pony all along the skirmish line when everyone else was lying down in cover. Foolish perhaps, but I play for high stakes and given an audience there is no act too daring or too noble."
Churchill played hard whatever the sport, unshakably game despite the hazards. He kept up steeplechasing even after serious falls, writing frankly to his brother, Jack, "There is no doubt about it being dangerous." To his mother, on the other hand, he minimized the risks: "I think that you take a rather extreme view of steeplechasing when you call it at once idiotic and fatal."
A severe shoulder injury should have ended his days as a polo player but, with his arm supported by a specially devised sling, he remained a member of the team that won the Indian Inter-Regimental Tournament. Churchill struck three of his team's four goals. To him it was more than a game. His personal style showed in his hard-riding, risk-taking decisiveness. Patrick Thompson, one of his contemporaries, wrote of Winston: "He rides in the game like heavy cavalry getting into position for the assault. He trots about, keenly watching, biding his time, a master of tactics and strategy. Abruptly he sees his chance, and he gathers his pony and charges in, neither deft nor graceful, but full of tearing physical energy-and skilful with it, too. He bears down opposition by the weight of his dash and strikes the ball. Did I say strikes? He slashes the ball."
Proving courage under fire is something one does over time, in many different arenas. Think about how you might improve your reputation for courage, and start taking action.
Resourceful and instinctive, Churchill fought as he played. In 1898 at Omdurman, Churchill was at the head of his troop as the 21st Lancers charged into several thousand Dervish warriors. His bad shoulder made wielding a sword impossible. He drew his Mauser pistol instead, killing three and wounding more. Had his shoulder been sound, he said later, he might well have gone down with his sword. From this experience came his stoic maxim: "One must never forget, when misfortunes come, that it is quite possible they are saving one from something much worse."
In South Africa, in the Boer War, Churchill found a conflict equal to his burgeoning ambition. Within a fortnight of arriving there in 1899 he accompanied an armored train on a reconnaissance. Just two hours down the track the Boers lay in ambush. As it rounded a hill, the train came under fire. The engineer poured on the steam to escape, but a boulder on the track derailed the leading wagons. Several British officers were present, but it was Churchill the war correspondent who took charge. With the improbable assertion that no man is wounded twice in one day, he persuaded the wounded engineer to return to his cab. Under a hail of bullets and artillery fire, he inspired volunteers to leave the shelter of the wagons and work at clearing the wreckage.
The battle lasted an hour, with Churchill, in the words of a private, "walking about in it all as coolly as if nothing was going on." With the wreckage cleared, the locomotive was loaded with wounded and driven to safety under Churchill's command. Returning on foot, in the hope of leading more men to safety, he found they had surrendered. Unarmed, he, too, was captured. A wounded officer described Churchill's conduct "as that of as brave a man as could be found."
The lesson is clear. The next time a crisis erupts, take action instead of waiting for someone or something to come to the rescue. Leadership waits for no one.
After four weeks' imprisonment in Pretoria, Churchill scrambled over the wall and made off into the night. He jumped a freight train then walked for miles across the veld. He was hidden underground by friendly miners and then among bales of wool in a railway wagon bound for Portuguese East Africa. A fortnight after climbing the wall he was back with the army, a few yards from where he had been captured less than six weeks before.
These deeds made him an international hero. Churchill could easily have ridden his reputation to political success. Instead he soldiered on. Within two weeks of his dramatic escape, he was back in action. "I do not know whether I shall see the end or not, but I am quite certain that I will not leave Africa till the matter is settled," he wrote to his sweetheart, Pamela Plowden, who fretted for his safety. "I should forfeit my self-respect forever if I tried to shield myself behind an easily obtained reputation for courage." Leaders make certain that their integrity can never be questioned.
The year was 1900. The celebrated journalist was now a lieutenant in an irregular regiment, the South African Light Horse. Again he showed striking initiative. Ian Hamilton, Churchill's commanding officer, wrote in his memoirs, "The key to the battlefield lay on the summit but nobody knew it until Winston managed to give me the slip and climb this mountain. He ensconced himself in a niche not much more than a pistol shot directly below the Boer commandos. They could have knocked him off his perch with a volley of stones. Thus it was from his lofty perch Winston had the nerve to signal me, if I remember right, with a handkerchief on a stick, that if only I could manage to gallop up at the head of my mounted infantry we ought to be able to rush the summit."
Curiosity and daring nourish the developing leader. "The leader wonders about everything, wants to learn as much as he can, is willing to take risks, experiment, try new things," writes Warren Bennis in On Becoming a Leader. "He does not worry about failure, but embraces errors, knowing he will learn from them."
Quite simply, budding leaders move on, change course, and do not look back. Consider the modern example of Michael Dell's launching of Dell Computer Corporation. Most would not dream of starting a business when contemplating medical school. But premed student Michael Dell spent much of his first semester at the University of Texas upgrading remaindered IBM PCs that he then resold to his fellow students and businesses, racking up a phenomenal $180,000 in sales his first month, and leading him to later launch the internationally successful Dell Computer.
Courage in business often requires staking out your line of attack and charging ahead, despite the naysayers. While at Yale, Fred Smith wrote a college paper describing the blueprint for a worldwide overnight delivery company. The paper got only a C, but as we know, that didn't stop the founder of FedEx one bit.
Following your passion and telling it like it is seldom make for an easy road to travel. Praised for "conspicuous gallantry" Churchill had his hopes for a decoration dashed by his equally daring journalism. He had upset Lord Roberts, the commander in chief, by his criticism of British military ineptitude in South Africa. His book The River War had also questioned Lord Kitchener's inhuman treatment of the enemy after the battle of Omdurman, and Kitchener was now the chief of staff in South Africa. Nevertheless, in spirit Churchill seemed to wear the medal he should have won. Courage under fire became part of his moral and political character. Like Senator John McCain, who bravely endured torture and imprisonment in Vietnam, Churchill emerged from his travails confident and ready for new challenges.
Elected to Parliament on the heels of his Boer War fame, Churchill plunged into politics as he had leaped into battle. He quickly made a name for himself in politics by speaking his mind, even if he was out of step with his own party. It was part of a logical progression. Churchill had been testing his voice since the age of twenty when he had covered the fight for independence in Cuba as a journalist. By his midtwenties he had become a prolific journalist and confident speaker and had written five books, including a novel, of which he wrote enthusiastically, "All my philosophy is put into the mouth of the hero."
Colleagues advised Churchill to go slowly in Parliament, to find his way before taking unnecessary chances, but caution was foreign to his character. In his maiden speech in Parliament, Churchill vigorously attacked the government's role in the Boer War. Though only twenty-six, the former officer had the audacity to argue, successfully, for economy in army spending, writing, "A better army does not necessarily mean a bigger army. There ought to be ways of reforming a business, other than by merely putting more money into it. There are more ways of skinning a cat." So, too, did he take a tremendous chance when opposing his party's central policies, arguing for free trade and the end of protectionist tariffs.
The fight over free trade would ultimately lead Churchill to switch parties, a subject we'll discuss in the following chapter, Challenge Convention. The path of courage and candor is seldom easy. When Churchill joined the Liberal Party, the doors of two prestigious London clubs were closed to him. He was blackballed by the Hurlingham Club and he felt he should resign from the Carlton Club. Principled stands became his signature. He fought for the rights of Jews when many of his fellow members of Parliament were unabashed anti-Semites. He proclaimed Chinese indentured labor "an evil inheritance." Later, as Home Secretary, he sought to bring order and fairness to the criminal justice system.
He was finding his voice and demonstrating his integrity. In the field of justice, he was not only reforming a system that disproportionately targeted the young and poor, imprisoning many for being unable to pay minor bills. He was also drawing the injustice to the attention of those in power, reminding Parliament that the "treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilization of any country" and that "there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man-these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation."
Churchill's courage became the wild card with which he turned the tables, sometimes changing the opinion of Parliament as he did over the Amritsar incident of 1919. Brigadier General Reginald Dyer had ruthlessly ordered the massacre of unarmed Punjabis who had been protesting against public whippings and an order that they crawl through a street where an Englishwoman had been molested. Nearly four hundred protesters were mowed down by machine gunners. Dyer was forced into retirement, which made him a martyr to the British establishment and gave rise to a debate in Parliament.
Churchill was not prepared to endorse the methods of dictators. Britain could not condone the Amritsar incident any more than it could the "bloody and devastating terrorism" of Bolshevism. "I do not think that it is in the interests of the British Empire or of the British Army for us to take a load of that sort for all time upon our backs. We have to make it absolutely clear, some way or another, that this is not the British way of doing business." To drive home his point he noted that the number of Indian victims was nearly identical to the number of members of Parliament listening to his speech. The motion, which had seemed certain to approve the general's murderous actions, was defeated in Parliament by nearly two to one.
Churchill's immense courage in World War II played such a large and varied role in his leadership that we will touch on it only briefly here. But it's clear that when Britain had to stand alone Churchill epitomized Britain's courage and resilience. His inspiring words, his energy, his trademark V sign and ever-present cigar all combined to communicate his tremendous courage.
More than a few politicians were ambivalent about working with the often gruff, always controversial Churchill. He had been locked out of government during the long years of appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Some wondered whether he was right for the job of wartime Prime Minister. Business leaders face similar crises of confidence when they take over a troubled company or a failing division. Displaying confidence in the face of uncertainty and making hard choices steel your will and reinforce your leadership.
Upon becoming Prime Minister, Churchill gathered his twenty-five ministers together and revealed that he had reflected "whether it was part of my duty to consider entering into negotiations with That Man." He ran through the awful consequences of such a devil's bargain-right down to becoming a Nazi slave state. His words left no doubt about his conviction. "I am convinced that every man of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground."
That blood-and-guts declaration of resolve won Churchill cheers and enthusiastic claps on the back. Churchill knew that there were members of his Cabinet who still believed appeasement with Hitler was possible, but his warrior's cry consolidated his position, steeling his ministers with his iron will. As he later recounted, "I am sure that every minister was ready to be killed quite soon, and have all his family and possessions destroyed, rather than give in."
Courage is infectious. When air-raid sirens wailed over London, Churchill often clambered up to the roof to watch the fireworks, rather than scurrying down to the shelter. Notwithstanding his age and sometimes precarious health, he dashed around the world through hostile skies and across dangerous waters to meet Stalin and Roosevelt and to visit the various front lines. More than once Churchill tried the patience of his generals by his delight at being close to the action, even when under shellfire. But Churchill felt the need to discover personally how things were going and to share the hazards and adventure of war. He took chances because he knew his actions were inspirational.
By never sidestepping a problem you can engender courage in others. You must calmly face workers that must be let go or a division about to be cut back. You must handle the crisis head-on. You must share the pain. As Churchill explained in his war memoirs, "A man who has to play an effective part in taking, with the highest responsibility, grave and terrible decisions of war may need the refreshment of adventure. He may also need the comfort that when sending so many others to their death he may share in a small way their risks."
In 1909, while still President of the Board of Trade, Churchill was appointed to the Committee of Imperial Defence and immediately became interested in aviation. He was concerned that the government was not taking the matter seriously. On February 25 he told the committee that the government's aviation proposals might be too amateurish. He advised the committee to "place ourselves in communication with Mr. Orville Wright, and avail ourselves of his knowledge."
Courageous men and women get more done. Churchill's fearless approach to life took him where others failed to tread and his curiosity led to important innovations, as we shall see in Chapter 9, Experiment. He became convinced, for instance, of the military potential of aircraft long before many contemporaries, partly because he was daring enough to venture into the air himself. How could he be knowledgeable about aircraft if he stayed earthbound? Once up in the clouds, he was hooked. No matter that flying in 1912 was arguably more dangerous than riding a space shuttle in 2000, or that Churchill, at thirty-eight, was six years older than the cut-off age for a novice at that time. Churchill set his sights on earning a pilot's license.
He was not particularly gifted, but, as usual, what terrified the average man he found thrilling. He escaped death by the narrowest of margins. "We were scarcely ninety foot above the ground, just the normal height for the usual side-slip fatal accident, the commonest of all," Churchill wrote of a terrifying crash, from which he amazingly emerged with little more than bruises. There were emergency landings. Others were not so lucky. Two of Churchill's instructors died in the very planes in which the future Prime Minister had recently flown. Finally, after pleas from his distraught wife and worried friends, Churchill announced he was quitting.
He looked on the experience as a tonic, good for his nerve, spirits, and virtue. It had made him something of an expert at what he knew would be a critical weapon of war. "I have been up nearly 140 times, with many pilots, & all kinds of machines, so I know the difficulties the dangers & the joys of the air-well enough to appreciate them, & to understand all the questions of policy which will arise in the near future." By seeing things with his own eyes, the First Lord of the Admiralty gained a tremendous understanding of the powers and limitations of flight. Largely because he had used them, Churchill came to believe in the value of instruments in an age when most pilots flew by the seat of their pants. He had a biplane fitted with dual controls that "would be useful for long-distance flying and enable one pilot to relieve the other."
Take time to think creatively about your organization. Where might dual controls help when the going gets rough?
Courage and boldness give one more than depth. They generate second chances. Think of all the entrepreneurs and company founders who succeeded only after several failures. It is precisely when things go most wrong that you learn the most about yourself. Churchill's years of isolation in the 1930s required tremendous fortitude and resilience to endure. But he had weathered a greater storm nearly twenty years before when domestic politics had made him the scapegoat for the huge military debacle at Gallipoli in World War I. Stripped of his office and offered only a cabinet post with no influence, he resigned from the government. Seldom in Britain's history had such a gifted politician fallen as far and as fast. Many wrote Churchill off as utterly finished.
Let's put this into a modern, civilian perspective. What would a similarly humiliated politician or business executive do today? Most would probably seek some lesser post or retire to academic life. Churchill crossed the Channel to fight in the trenches. He was forty, his dashing days in South Africa more than fifteen years behind him, but he headed to the front with all the enthusiasm of a young patriot. He was most certainly risking his life. Yet this was more than a public penance for those who had died in Gallipoli. He was also starting fresh, seeking nothing less than an emotional and spiritual reju- venation.
He asked for a command and was at first offered a brigade. A change in commanders in chief reminded him that he was no longer the power he had been. The best he could be offered was a lowly battalion. He grasped it with both hands. His wife and friends worried. The trenches were an ugly, dangerous place. He wrote to Clementine of defences built so haphazardly that the limbs of half-buried corpses could be seen, a hellish muddy stew of dirt and garbage accompanied by the sounds of "rifles & machine guns & the venomous whining & whirring of the bullets which pass overhead."
He reveled at being a small part of a noble cause. He accepted that as a reserve officer he would first have to relearn the ropes before he commanded his own battalion. "I do not know when I have passed a more joyous three weeks....I share the fortunes of a company of Grenadiers. It is a jolly life with nice people; and one does not mind the cold and wet and general discomfort." He was frustrated at being cut off from politics, powerless to influence events of which he believed he had greater understanding than those in command. Near the midpoint of his life and career, Churchill took the greatest of all risks. He swallowed his pride and started over, from the bottom. He somehow sensed that to succeed he must first embrace his failure.
To any leader or executive struggling against long odds, it is a powerful story.