I love to learn from the most successful people in life. It’s one of the best ways to gain new insights and accelerate your learning.
When it comes to leadership, it’s hard to find a better example than Sir Winston Churchill. I’ve been fascinated by him ever since I visited the Cabinet War Rooms in London, England years ago.
Many know Winston Churchill from his exceptional leadership during the Second World War. That is only part of the story. Churchill has much to teach us, whether you are in politics or not.
When you choose to study Churchill, you have a great wealth of resources to use. I draw on Martin Gilbert’s outstanding biography of Winston Churchill*. It’s a well-crafted book that clocks in around 1,000 pages. Consider this article your introduction to Churchill’s story. I am also indebted to the excellent resources provided by the Churchill Centre.
Lessons From Winston Churchill
I will teach you three important leadership lessons from the life and work of Winston Churchill. Master just one of these leadership lessons and you will set yourself apart from most people. If you work on all three skills, you may rival Churchill’s achievements.
- 1. How to Make the Most of Your Opportunities
- 2. Publish Like Churchill
- 3. Speak Like Winston Churchill
- How Will You Lead Like Churchill?
- Now It’s Your Turn …
1. How to Make the Most of Your Opportunities
As a young man in the British Army, Winston Churchill was constantly looking for interesting opportunities. For him, the Second Boer War of 1899–1902 proved an excellent opportunity. Unlike other officers, Churchill did not limit himself to military duties. Churchill made the most of his time during the war. Even at a young age, he understood the public would be interested in reading about the conflict.
During the war and afterwards, Churchill wrote about his experience constantly. He secured an assignment to write about his experiences for the Morning Post at the comfortable pay of £250 per month (equivalent to $40,000 US Dollars in 2013 terms according to Measuring Worth.)
This assignment ignited Churchill’s lifelong passion for writing and publishing. He later went on to write numerous works of history, multiple volumes of memoirs and win the Noble Prize for Literature.
2. Publish Like Churchill
History shall be kind to me for I intend to write it. – Winston Churchill
Did you know that Winston Churchill published forty-three books in his lifetime? By any standard, that is an incredible accomplishment. It is all the more impressive when you remember that Churchill had substantial responsibilities as a cabinet minister, military officer, diplomat and leader. That determination to write could not be contained.
If you ever fall into the trap of thinking that you don’t have time to write and publish, consider Churchill’s example. Publishing your thoughts today is child’s play — you have no excuse not to share your ideas with the world.
By publishing his thinking year after year, Churchill sets himself apart from his contemporaries. Other Prime Ministers of his time — Stanley Baldwin, for example — leave no comparable literary legacy. Whether you are seeking to shape the political agenda or lead your industry, the value of clarifying your thoughts in print cannot be overstated.
Churchill’s example is one of the reasons I’m writing this article for you!
3. Speak Like Winston Churchill
Public speaking is a crucial leadership skill. In political life, outstanding communication skills can win you the keys to the Oval Office or 10 Downing Street. You may be uncomfortable with public speaking, especially with larger crowds. I can understand that: fear of public speaking is very common.
To inspire you to lead through public speaking, consider these two immortal speeches from Churchill’s career. Both speeches date from the dark days of the Second World War when Britain faced the might of Germany with few allies.
First Speech As Prime Minister, May 1940
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us … You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
Clarity of Purpose — A Timeless Leadership Lesson
In May 1940, Churchill assumed the office of Prime Minister. Leadership changes, especially in times of war, create uncertainty. Churchill’s remarks show his clarity of purpose. Nobody encountering his speech, then or now, could have any doubt about Churchill’s objectives. Churchill did not sugar coat the situation.
Elsewhere in his speech, he said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” When you lead, you must be confident and you must be clear. If your efforts require suffering, long hours and sacrifice, you must communicate those facts. Otherwise, you have no hope of managing expectations.
The Never Surrender Speech of June 1940
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
Think Through the Consequences — A Leadership Lesson
In the summer of 1940, German forces appeared to be unstoppable in Europe. Many doubted whether Britain could survive as a free and independent state. Churchill put his people’s anxiety into words. Instead of anxiously wondering how a land invasion could be handled, Churchill laid out the steps.
In your public speaking, it is important to walk your audience through your vision. Lead them through your plan, one step at a time. By organising into a logical sequence, you will enhance your leadership.
How Will You Lead Like Churchill?
You have learned three leadership lessons today. Start by taking the most of the opportunities available to you at your organisation. You can also wield influence through the power of publishing your ideas on the Internet, in magazines, in books and other outlets. The spoken word can also be a great ally once you take the time and effort to develop your public speaking skills.
Now It’s Your Turn …
In the comments, share how you plan to lead like Winston Churchill. These leadership lessons will only change your life if you put them into action.
Images public domain.