CHURCHILL: The Character of Leadership

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series Lead Like Churchill

Winston S. Churchill c.1891

It has sadly become a popular belief that leaders are naturally born, and Churchill, many have said, was one of them. Looking at some of the leaders around the world today, the reality happily sets in that this can’t be true, or Nurse Ratched would be calling “Medication time”[1] for all of us. “Many are called,” however, “few are chosen.”[2] Anyone can be a leader, but few are considered great. Of that select few, I am honored to say that my great-grandfather was one. But his skill as a leader was not born, it was cultivated by the influence of those around him.

Hang on, I hear some shout in objection, he was born into great privilege and had much more opportunity than the average Joe. True, I can’t deny his class. He also had the best education that money could buy. Because of birth and wealth, he could join the ranks of the British Army as an officer in Her Majesty’s cavalry, instead of being forced to enter as a Private, with no hope of climbing ranks beyond Sergeant. However, none of this helped him win his political seat in 1900. Nor did the fact that his mother was friends with those in high political office.

Winston S. Churchill – War Correspondent for the Morning Post, South Africa
© Bettmann Corbis

When Churchill entered Parliament in 1900 he did so on his own merit, earned literally from his own ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat,’[3] while working as a war correspondent in South Africa. Over the sixty years he served in Parliament, he did so, like his father before him, at the will of the people who had elected him, and with their voice in his heart.

Caring nothing for rank, status, class or consequence, Churchill confidently spoke out, despite often seeing his words fall on stony ground, or be picked over in London society, like vultures to a corpse. ‘Every prophet has to go into the wilderness,’ he remarked in his essay on Moses, but it was his conviction that it was a necessary process, and that challenges presented opportunities ‘by which psychic dynamite is made.’[4] His faith that he was being prepared for greatness ran through his veins, and although he seemed at times in too much of a hurry, his speed was clearly dictated by the circumstances around him.

He led with humility, spoke with conviction, and forgave all who had hounded him unfairly, unreservedly. His faith in himself and the ability of the British people to defeat the despot over the Channel, was equaled only to his faith in God, and in “all the strength that God,”[5] could give him. With courage, faith and integrity, Churchill raised “the tattered flag [he] found lying on a stricken field.”[6] And despite the odds, stood in front of his people against a “monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime,”[7] and said “you do your worst, and we shall do our best.”[8]

 

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[1] One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, 1975

[2] King James Bible: Matthew 22:14

[3] LANGWORTH, Richard: Churchill by Himself, p.20

[4] SANDYS/HENLEY: God & Churchill, p.41

[5] ibid, p.84

[6] CHURCHILL, Randolph S.: Winston S. Churchill: Young Statesman, 1901-1914, Volume II, p.19

[7] SANDYS/HENLEY: God & Churchill, p.84

[8] LANGWORTH, Richard: Churchill by Himself, p.306

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