CHURCHILL: The Courage to Listen 

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Lead Like Churchill

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

Often attributed to Great-Grandpapa, but in-fact, according to Richard Langworth, unattributed; but the sentiment is right, whether Churchill spoke it or not.


The Churchill’s on The Thames (c.1940)

During the 1930s, groans would be heard in the House of Commons when Churchill rose to speak. His warnings that Hitler was a problem we could not afford to underestimate were sadly ignored. But with courage, despite colleagues on both sides of the House jeering at him and shouting for him to sit-down, Great-Grandpapa remained resolute.

Churchill’s goal was clear from the earliest moments in 1933; he intended to ensure that Britain rearmed to avoid a war, the horror of which he feared would be matched, if not outdone, by the War of 1914-1918.

Great-Grandpapa proved his courage was made of metal when he stood and spoke over the unruly House of Commons, however, it was not until he became Prime Minister he proved that, although ‘always ready to learn,’[1] and not always happy to be taught, he could rise to the occasion, and, as a leader, listen to advice.  Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Great-Grandmama wrote to Churchill, concerned at a complaint she had received on how he was handling the pressures of his office, and the war:

‘I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not so kind as you used to be,’ Clementine wrote, ‘with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm…I cannot bear that those who serve the Country & yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you.’[2]

Great-Grandpapa’s attitude changed overnight. Although still occasionally overbearing, the cruelty disappeared completely, and as a result, colleagues he worked with remembered him fondly and considered him a great hero. I personally feel that his late secretary, Grace Hamblin, summed-up the sentiment best. In a letter penned to Clementine Churchill, following the funeral in London, Grace wrote:

‘I pondered on what had made this dynamic but gentle character so beloved and respected—and such a wonderful person to work for. I think one found first of all that there was courage. He had no fear of anything, moral or physical. There was sincerity, truth and integrity, for he couldn’t knowingly deceive a cabinet minister or a bricklayer or a secretary. There was forgiveness, warmth, affection, loyalty and, perhaps most important of all in the demanding life we all lived, there was humour, which he had in abundance….’[3]

Leading with courage is one of the most important qualities of leadership because, ‘as it has been said…Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because…it is the quality which guarantees all others.’[4]

Note from the author: This blog post represent information based upon Jonathan’s Churchillian leadership course,
LEAD LIKE CHURCHILL: Courage, Faith, Integrity.
Click the banner for more information.



[1] LANGWORTH, Richard: Churchill by Himself, p.541

[2] SOAMES, Mary: Speaking for Themselves, p.454

[3] LANGWORTH, Richard: Churchill by Himself, p.7

[4] LANGWORTH, Richard: Churchill by Himself, p.30



The Churchill’s on The Thames (1940)


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