‘One of the men in your entourage, (a devoted friend), has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked…because of your rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner…’
How would you feel if as a leader under huge pressure, you suddenly received a letter from your wife informing you that a subordinate had visited her to complain about your treatment not just of them, but of others? I think most would react rather than contemplate, but leadership is not a reaction it is a contemplated action, and in Clementine Churchill’s heartfelt letter we clearly see a leadership master at work.
‘My Darling Winston, I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner, and you are not so kind as you used to be.’ Clementine approaches Churchill honestly and courageously. She doesn’t admonish him, but her frankness confirms to Churchill that there must be some truth in her words. ‘It is for you to give the Orders, and if they are bungled…you can sack anyone and everyone.’
To point out a flaw or a mistake is certainly a requirement of great leadership however, Clementine would have proven herself a very poor leader had she simple completed her letter with the negative and offered no recognition of the pressure on Churchill, his position, and offered some form of solution. ‘…with this terrific power, you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible, Olympic calm.’
Although there is no record of a reply we know from history that from that moment Churchill’s attitude changed and this is confirmed by those who worked closest with him, most notably his longest serving secretary Grace Hamblin who, on the occasion of Churchill’s funeral wrote to Clementine saying:
‘I pondered on what had made this dynamic but gentle character so beloved and respected – and such a wonderful person to work for.’
The leadership example of Clementine as demonstrated in her letter, stands in stark comparison to a similar warning Churchill received from his father Lord Randolph. On successfully passing into Sandhurst Military Academy in 1893, Churchill, in response to his excited letter of examination victory received the following missive:
‘There are two ways of winning in an examination,’ Lord Randolph wrote, ‘one credible and the other the reverse. You have unfortunately chosen the latter method, and appear to be much pleased with your success.’
With no consideration of his son’s feelings, Lord Randolph writes his poison-pen letter, venting his anger over an issue that the reader at first is led to believe is enormous, only to later discover how overrated Lord Randolph’s complaint is.
‘The first extremely discreditable feature of your performance was missing the infantry, for in that failure is demonstrated beyond refutation your slovenly, happy-go-lucky, harum-scarum style of work for which you have always been distinguished at your different schools.’ The letter continues in this style and later the reader discovers that Lord Randolph’s only complaint about Churchill becoming a cavalry officer and not an infantry officer is financial. ‘…by accomplishing the prodigious effort of getting into the Cavalry, you imposed on me an extra charge of some £200 a year…’
Having listed his disappointments, Lord Randolph adds the icing to the cake abandoning his son and stating, ‘I no longer attach the slightest weight to anything you may say…I shall leave you to depend on yourself…because I am certain that if you cannot prevent yourself from leading the idle, useless, unprofitable life you have had during your schooldays and later months, you will become a mere social wastrel…and degenerate into a shabby, unhappy and futile existence.’
Lord Randolph’s intention is to persuade his son to change his ways, but unlike Clementine, he has no interest seeing things from Churchill’s point of view. Lord Randolph has nothing positive to say and no interest in congratulating his son on passing into the Academy, a feat that took Churchill three attempts. Far from offering advice, Lord Randolph abandons Winston offering financial subsistence, but beyond that wanting nothing to do with him. Lord Randolph completely misunderstood Churchill’s needs at that moment. Money may well alleviate the pain of poverty, but the Bible is right that it can never buy love, and all Churchill had ever desired was to feel his father’s love and make him proud.
In contrast to Clementine’s letter, her approach elicited an immediate and positive change as Churchill could feel her heart beating through every painful word she felt compelled to write. Lord Randolph’s diatribe provoked no change in Churchill’s attitude, and no doubt hurt him and widened the gap between father and son.
While one must be prepared to point out mistakes and failings in our followers, we must show compassion and humanity. Don’t pussy-foot around the issue, tackle it head-on as Clementine did in 1940. Lord Randolph’s letter may well have had a certain truth to it, but his approach was a reaction, while Clementine’s was a contemplated action. Clementine achieve her aim in writing, Lord Randolph achieved nothing.
CLEMENTINE CHURCHILL: “A Blessing in Disguise”
When Winston Churchill lost the 1945 General Election it was Clementine who came to Churchill’s aide, just as she had done after the Gallipoli disaster of 1915
‘I could never have succeeded without her.’
Winston S. Churchill
Letter from Clementine Churchill: June 27, 1940 – SOAMES, Lady Mary: Speaking for Themselves
Letter from Lord Randolph Churchill: August 9, 1893 – CHURCHILL, Randolph S.: The Churchill Documents, Volume I – Youth (1874-1896)
CHURCHILL, Sir Winston S: http://pastdaily.com/2015/01/24/winston-churchill-november-30-1874-january-24-1965
LETTER FROM: CHURCHILL, Clementine S.: https://www.churchillcentral.com/timeline/stories/clementine-and-winston
CHURCHILL, Clementine S.: https://www.pinterest.com/paytonetta/cool-people
CHURCHILL, Lord Randolph: http://www.winstonchurchill.org/publications/chartwell-bulletin/bulletin-62-aug-2013/lord-randolph-churchill-revisited
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