Churchill: the Importance of Importance



Sir Winston Churchill, whose funeral took place 50 years ago today, was the British Prime Minister for all but the first few months of the Second World War. He is seen as an example of someone who could make things happen, a requirement of leadership we mention on our Home page.

However, before acting in any walk of life, it's necessary to know what we want to make happen, and why. In situations, and also in organisations, where there seems to be a premium on action more than reflection, there are potential dangers if the broader context isn't taken into account.

The situation Churchill faced in the spring of 1940 was both grave and complex. In the language of today, there was an "existential threat" to freedom, but also a clear lack of consensus among decision makers as to how to respond. Many of his colleagues also distrusted his temperament as too impetuous. Churchill's response was to identify and then communicate what was fundamentally important - that the British Empire as it then was, would not surrender to or negotiate with Hitler. The first alternative was deemed too costly in all respects and the second was considered impossible. Then, it became feasible to mobilise both resources and commitment to the goal of total victory.

Churchill's judgement as a leader was not based on data or focus groups (although it's interesting that both would become increasingly used in the management of the "War Effort") but on experience and intuition. This in turn derived from a military background, as well as a powerful sense of history that made Churchill a successful author and Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1953.

Modern leadership thinking is rightly focused on the relationship between the leader and followers, and the fact of it being non-hierarchical. However, it's also incumbent on a leader to see what's really important - and, if possible, before everyone else.








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