I have just recently finished the first book in the Manchester’s biography three volume work on Winston Churchill. Churchill was an amazing figure and Manchester an incredible writer. Such a weighty literary work on such a weighty historical figure is inevitably full of meaningful and rich lessons. I wish I had written down a bit more of my thoughts during my way through the book. Nevertheless I thought I would throw down as much as I could recall as I have been reflecting on this man’s life this past week.
The first and primary lesson that has powerfully stood out to me was the fact that leadership has consequences, and bad leadership has lead the course of human history in to deeply tragic ends. As we read history we see that it is cluttered with individuals clambering for the top spot, fighting to have the opportunity to lead. Yet, in this process, some of the fundamental and powerful facts are often overlooked.
To what end does one lead? What are the pitfalls along the way and how will he/she avoid them? What is the actual impact does one seek to have on those under their leadership? What does it mean to truly be equipped for the job at hand?
Very frequently, the focus on the position overshadows one’s perspective as to the purpose of their getting there. This of course sets the leader and those under them up for tragedy. People may fill roles and act important, but sooner or later they will be tested. When crisis strikes, the real leader emerges while the others freeze up and crumble under pressure.
Churchill was not merely a man fighting for the top. He was a man of genuine perspective and insight. Although one may argue he was indeed a prideful man, he was not one who’s perspective of the issues at hand were clouded by his inflated view of self and his abilities to handle the situation. He was truly insightful and saw things that others took much longer to realize. He took time to saturate himself into the issues before him. He understood the critical need of decision making that is driven by a realistic grip on the facts. And he worked very hard at this.
He also understood the emptiness of a shallow perspective. During his political life, Churchill was often surrounded by men who would argue for the sake of arguing. Men who fought for the sake of their prestige rather than the sake of the nation they seek to lead. The decisions that these men make in the heat of battle were tragic and impacted thousands of lives.
Leaders and the decisions that they make matter. They cannot merely be accepted because of the prestige of their position. They must be tested. They must be observed. They must be held accountable for their actions.
Certainly, Churchill was not perfect in all he did. Yet he was a man strategically placed in his time of history, a man who could step in at the moment of crisis and have an answer. We need more leaders like this. Leaders who dig down deep, who ask questions, who are known not for their title or position but by the quality and insight of their perspective.