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Churchill, a leadership analysis.

Churchill was a complex man. He had many components to his life all of which help create the man and contribute to his strengths and weaknesses as a leader. He was a soldier, war correspondent, author and of course, a politician. On the 30th November 1874, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, into a life, (compared to most British subjects of the time) of privilege and affluence.  The first-born son of Lord and Lady Randolph Churchill, the Young Winston wanted for nought. He was provided with a nanny and a governess and went to a couple of Preparatory schools for early schooling before, at the age of twelve being sent to one of the elite British boys schools, Harrow. At Harrow, Churchill was not a natural scholar, in fact, he did poorly (Thal, 1975, pg.302). Churchill’s time at Sandhurst Military academy was well spent with Churchill finishing eighth in his graduating class. Posted to India, Churchill wrote a best selling book within two months of his first combat experience (1897). The book was entitled “The Malakand Field Force” and was so popular that Churchill even received a letter of praise from the then Prince of Wales (Gilbert, 1970, pg. 16).

 

Churchill continued in the Army until 1899, ran for parliament (and lost) then, while in South Africa as a war Correspondent. He was captured by the Boers, held as a Prisoner of war, from which he escaped, going onto serve in the Imperial forces for another year and a half. As a result of these adventures, he received wide adulation from the British Public. From here, he was elected to parliament and the beginning of his far-reaching political career that culminated in the Prime ministers position in World War 2 (Schama, 2003).

Through the early part of his life I consider that Churchill had a big leg up through the not insequential influence and standing of his family. I believe this helped him considerably in the area of his initial military and parliamentary careers, helping to open doors (if only sometimes ajar) throughout his life. I consider that a large part of Churchill’s success in leadership was his constant quest for knowledge. Reading through different life accounts repeatedly, you see Churchill entering new fields of knowledge and gleaning all he can from it. His experiences with the taking on of a battalion command during World War 1 are a good example of this vigour that drove Churchill.

 

Leadership Style

To prize that ajar door further open Churchill had Charisma. This was something that Churchill had plenty of at different levels, both Referent and Expert (Dubrin, Daglish & Miller, 2006, pg.94).

 

Referent; Churchill demonstrated great capacity in leading Britain and the Empire during World War 2. Surely, his ability to cast his influence over whole nations in a time of great uncertainty stands as his greatest single accomplishment.

 

Expert; When World War Two commenced Churchill’s life’s experiences up until that time had prepared him with unique expertise with which to charismatically lead both a war cabinet and contribute to the Wars Strategy with the Imperial Chiefs of Staff. In addition to his military record in World War 1, he had also held a range of Cabinet posts that left him very familiar with the requirements of war.

A breakdown of other foremost Characteristics of charismatic leaders (Dubrin, Daglish & Miller, 2006, pg.97) sees me able to provide illustrations of Churchill’s capabilities in these particular areas;

 

Visionary: Churchill was one of the few British leaders who had favoured a strong line from the start of Hitler’s ascent to power He was at best ignored, at worst publicly derided as being a warmonger. Ultimately, he was proven right.

During the darkest days of the war in 1940, when the Empire had its backs to the wall alone against the Axis powers, Churchill came up with his famous “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech which he wrote and presented to the British Parliament (Gilbert, 1970, pg. 52). In which he laid out to the world his plain vision of Victory. It was, effectively, a very public mission statement.

 

Outstanding Communication skills; Unlike many of today’s politicians Churchill was gifted with the ability to not only write some of the greatest inspirational speeches of the modern age but to have the personal skill and presence to deliver them as well. This alone must set him apart as one of the great Charismatic leaders.

 

Vigorous disposition; Churchill’s capacity for work and toil knew few boundaries. Even at the age of 77, an age when most people are happily retired, enjoying the fruits of a life’s labour. Churchill was still serving in the British Parliament (this is after 55 years as an MP) and was still so highly thought of as a leader that the Conservative party installed him as their Prime Minister. A post he held until 1955 when he resigned though he remained a member of parliament on the backbench, (Gilbert, 1970, pg. 59).

 

Romanticising Risk; Churchill’s speeches (written himself) are masterful documents and leave the reader emboldened with visions of Agincourt re-visited. His “We will fight them on the beaches” speech delivered as the remnants of the defeated British army were being lifted from Dunkirk in 1940 (Gilbert, 1970, pg. 53) is a great example of the sort of romantic rhetoric the man was capable of influencing and inspiring people with. This was not an isolated example, especially through the war years his language is littered with similar rhetoric extolling the empire to new heights of sacrifice (Schama, 2003).

 

During World War 2 at least, Churchill’s Charismatic personality could best be described as divine (Dubrin, Daglish & Miller, 2006, pg.96) Churchill displayed his ability as an all encompassing historically significant figure as few British leaders have before  and very precious few anywhere in the world, since.

 

Churchill’s Strengths & Weaknesses

Dubrin mentioned that people with Charismatic leadership skills should have exceptional abilities to inspire through their communications (Dubrin, Daglish & Miller, 2006). In my opinion, Churchill’s greatest strength was his ability to communicate and inspire people through either his written or spoken skills. Because of Churchill’s Charismatic (and at times dogmatic) leadership style he was either loved or hated by his peers in parliament. His ability to inspire and influence people saw him rise from the political ashes on a number of occasions. For an example, after his perceived responsibility for the failed World War 1 Dardanelles’ offensive, he was effectively sacked from his post as Lord of the admiralty. After six months commanding a battalion in the trenches on the western front (his choice), he returned to take up a critical ministerial post (Minister of Munitions) on the invitation of the then Prime Minister Lloyd George. 

 

Weaknesses; Churchill’s sense of Victorian honour, pride and absolute focus on victory in World War 2 was in some ways Britain’s undoing in the peace which followed. To explain, once the United States had entered the war, with all of her material might, victory for the allies was only a matter of time. The problem was that, even by 1940, financially, Britain was already stretched to breaking. It would have made sense to husband resources so the country would not be driven bankrupt by the way it conducted the war. Churchill and his government would have none of it and effectively made Great Britain beholden to the United States for decades to come in the form of Lend-Lease and other loan repayments (Barnett, 1993, pg. 588). It is ironic to me that Churchill, ever the champion of the perpetuation and glory of empire, was in effect (in my opinion) one the main promoters of its downfall through his single-minded quest for victory over Germany in World War 2.

 

Conclusion

Churchill was a complex man. He was a soldier, war correspondent, author and of course, a politician. Above all, he was a great charismatic leader. He should be remembered and revered for what he achieved.

 

References

 

Parker, C. & Stone, G. (2003). Developing Management Skills for Leadership. UK: Pearson Education.

 

Dubrin, A. J., Daglish, C. & Miller, P. (2006). Leadership 2nd  Asia-Pacific edition. Singapore: John Wiley & sons.

 

Schama, S. (2003). A History of Britain 3 1776-2000 The fate of Empire. UK: Bath Press.

 

Gilbert, M. (1970). Winston Churchill. UK: Fletcher & sons.

 

Van Thal, H. (1975). The Prime Ministers 2nd Volume. UK: George Allen & Unwin.

 

Barnett, C. (1993). The Collapse of British power. UK: Guernsey Press Co.