Issue No. 174 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting features a short, but expansive book on the life and leadership of Winston Churchill. This is a case study on leadership (success and failure) in just 166 pages. It’s brilliant. And this reminder, check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
We’re pretty North American-centric here in the U.S. Watching the Winter Olympics reminds us that we Yanks are hardly the center of the universe. Plus, I’ve always felt a tad guilty that my reading list had never included anything on Winston Churchill. No more guilt.
Paul Johnson’s hot-off-the-press 166-page chronicle of Churchill’s amazing life and leadership has received excellent reviews. The page count also works. The author’s masterful scan of Churchill’s 90 years (1874 to 1965) includes insightful detail, laugh-out-loud sidebars and absolutely relevant commentary on leadership and politics, war, success and failure (lots of failure).
If you’re under 40, don’t skip this book—thinking it irrelevant to our Twitter times. Churchill was a member of Parliament for 55 years, 31 years as a government minister, and almost nine years as prime minister. He served in the trenches of (and reported from) 15 battles, was awarded 14 campaign medals, “had been a prominent figure in the First World War, and a dominant one in the Second.”
And get this: he published nearly 10 million words, including his 880-page book, The World Crisis: 1911-1918. His five-volume War Memoirs book deal in 1947 paid him $2.23 million ($50 million in today’s dollars). And in his spare time, Churchill painted over 500 canvases. In 1953, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
He overcame family challenges. His cousin noted, “Few fathers had done less for their sons. Few sons had done more for their fathers.” Yet the author writes, “Among all the twentieth-century ruling elites, the Churchills must be judged to have had the most successful marriage.”
In the epilogue, the author includes five specific ways that leaders can learn from Churchill. Number 2: “There is no substitute for hard work.” Yet, this giant of a world leader “also manifestly enjoyed his leisure activities,” including his painting, which created a sanctuary-like retreat for his mind and body. He worked 16-hour days (often with full working mornings in bed—to conserve energy). “The balance he maintained between flat-out work and creative restorative leisure is worth study by anyone holding a top position.”
He knew the value of face time. He forced himself “to travel long distances, often in acute discomfort and danger, to meet the top statesmen face-to-face where his persuasive charm could work best.”
Speaking of charm, the writing enticed me page after page. Churchill’s famed oratory: 111 words per minute, “with Gladstone’s 100 as the standard.” After touring Africa, he wrote My African Journey (completed on his honeymoon): “…full of schemes for industrializing Africa and harnessing the Nile.” His politics: “Churchill was carried forward by intellectual conviction, but his reverence for tradition acted as a brake.”
He ribbed others, including the Labour Party leader, Clement Attlee. “Yes, he is a modest man, but then he has so much to be modest about.” And this: “An empty taxi drew up outside the House of Commons, and Mr. Attlee got out.”
He popularized (if not invented) the terms “cold war” and “iron curtain.” Dependent on U.S. help to win World War II, he became a student of FDR and wrote more than 1,000 letters to him. With pen and cigar (up to 12 a day) he was a brute force writing factory. He documented all verbal orders in writing, and his results-driven memos began with the famous headline, “Action This Day.”
“So did the endless series of brief, urgent queries: ‘Pray inform me on one half-sheet of paper, why…’ Answers had to be given, fast.” (This from Johnson’s insightful list of 10 ways that Churchill saved Britain. Number 4: “a personal example of furious and productive activity.”)
All of this, and more, in just 166 action-packed pages. This is a fantastic book! To order this book from Amazon, click on this title: Churchill, by Paul Johnson.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) In the author’s Top-10 list of ways that Churchill saved Britain, he said that “Churchill benefited from a change of national opinion toward the relative trustworthiness of politicians and service leaders.” What’s the political climate in our country today—and is there anything we need to re-learn from Churchill’s leadership?
2) Churchill popularized the “V” for victory sign and the author comments, “So the first true victory Britain won in the war was the victory of oratory and symbolism. Churchill was responsible for both.” How important is symbolism in our organization?
Coming Events With John Pearson:
March 11 - Nonprofit Board Governance Workshop: Cultivation. Recruitment. Orientation. Engagement. (Orange County, Calif.) Visit the website.
April 8 - CEO Dialogues Roundtable: Invest a day with your CEO colleagues. (Phoenix). Visit the website.
April 29 – The Rolling 3-Year Strategic Plan Workshop: Build It. Execute It. Update It. Year After Year! (3 Days Over 5 Months, Orange County, Calif.) Visit the website.
May 12-13 – Mastering the Management Buckets Workshop Experience: The 20 Critical Competencies (Orange County, Calif.) Visit the website.
Eliminate Fuzzy Roles - Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
One of the big ideas in the Operations Bucket, Chapter 17, in Mastering the Management Buckets, is to clarify responsibilities and task ownership by eliminating all fuzzy roles—and naming a point person for every task.
The Prime Responsibility Chart has been a critical best practice in my operations tool kit for over 30 years. Bill Benke introduced it to me when he served on my board at Camp Sambica. Benke used a version of this chart when he was a strategic business analysis executive with Boeing. The chart is simple and straightforward and can be changed at any time. The most important principle: Only one person has “Prime Responsibility” (P) for a task or responsibility. Visit the Operations Bucket on my website to download the chart.