Monday, 21 December 2009

Winston Churchill

I visited the Winston Churchill Exhibition at the Cabinet War Rooms on Saturday and I was amazed at the detail and level of information contained in the Museum, along with many of Churchills clothes, personal items and papers. From a discarded Cigar butt to the flag that draped his coffin it is an exhibition to see again and again.

I have long regarded him as the Greatest Britain of the 20th Century and seeing the rooms such as his bedroom, study, broadcast room, map room and cabinet war room it confirms my opinion that without Churchill there would have been jackboots on the streets of London. His leadership skills were unusual but very effective. In fact, if you are going to lead a country through a war and win it you are obviously doing something very, very right.

I have been looking at the leadership model of Churchill and find the following components...

A man of great Integrity Churchill was 65 years old when he first became Prime Minister. Despite his age he had enormous Self Belief. One may say that success is the result of good judgement, that good judgement is the result of experience and that experience is often the result of bad judgement.

There is no doubt that the extensive experience that Churchill had accumulated (including his mistakes and failings) were central to his leadership style. This experience helped to found his Vision . The lessons he learnt helped him to be Decisive and make the right decisions.

Leadership is nowadays all the rage. There are countless, books, articles, websites and conferences devoted to leadership and developing the qualities of great leadership. In light of his iconic status, the Churchill leadership traits exhibited in 1940-45 are set to be discussed and debated by scholars for years to come.

Charisma

Of course leadership itself is neither necessarily good nor desirable (Hitler, Stalin, Mao et al). Neither is it all about "charisma". Of course many leaders have been described as charismatic many were not.

Churchill, like Abe Lincoln, was not a particularly charismatic leader. This is in contrast to the devilishly charismatic Hitler. While Churchill had a powerful personality and wonderful Communication skills, no one wished to award him dictatorial powers for life (unlike Adolf!). Hitler radiated an almost super-human charisma. It has been said that after meeting Churchill you believed you could achieve anything. After meeting Hitler you believed that he could achieve anything! Churchill used this inspirational effect to build vital Collaborations

This difference between Churchillian Inspirational Leadership and Hitlerian Charismatic Leadership is wonderfully explored in Andrew Roberts' highly readable, stimulating and entertaining book "Hitler and Churchill - Secrets of Leadership".

It can be argued that far from leadership being "about charisma", rather charisma itself can weaken effective leadership: often leading to inflexibility, over confidence, inflated egos and "spin" over substance.

So leadership is not necessarily a good thing nor is it about charisma. In reality its not about a specific list of traits either. No two great leaders will possess the same list of traits or competencies.

Leadership is ultimately about getting things done that Drive to Take Action - and get results and imrpove performance. Its the ability to influence, motivate and provide the tools and environment to others so that they can best contribute towards the successful attainment of the goals of their community or organisation. Winston Churchill was a man of immense Courage and Creativity, these and his other qualities shaped the war during Britains "darkest hour". They worked for the great man - and I hope they prove to be thought provoking for you.

I cannot recommend the Cabinet War Rooms to you highly enough. Take a trip there and you will be amazed.

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