Churchill was adored or criticized, but he never left anyone indifferent. He is considered today as the greatest man of the XXᵉ century, however this was not always the case. Why ?
Become a leader, lead people and live the life you deserve. This is an often-discussed subject and I don’t like the solutions usually offered by authors of articles and essays. All the answers are more or less similar. We are given management advice to improve our presence and our charisma, but something is missing.
I share with you an original idea that I discovered thanks to Philippe Gabilliet, professor of leadership at ESCP Europe. I find his definition remarkable. In this article, I offer you his approach through the example of one of the greatest leaders of all time and my favorite historical figure: Winston Spencer Churchill.
Churchill was widely adored or criticized, but he never left anyone indifferent. He is considered today as the greatest man of the XXᵉ century, however this was not always the case. What are the reasons for this change? Let’s explore hypotheses explaining Churchill’s leadership through the prism of the work of Philippe Gabilliet.
How do you become a leader?
Philippe Gabilliet’s leadership hypothesis helps explain the ability of many people to have embodied their leadership role: Churchill, Elon Musk, Greta Thunberg, Steve Jobs, etc. In short, almost all and whatever their field.
Philippe Gabilliet does not give us the usual definition of a leader. Far from there. Although it helps, he does not suggest that we take acting classes or learn the art of rhetoric: “If you want to develop your leadership, you must never stop, in the years to come, bring you closer to the situation that will make you a leader” [Philippe Gabilliet]
More specifically, Philippe Gabilliet suggests that we get closer to the types of situations in which we have enough credibility and impact to act as a leader.
Winston S. Churchill was a politician who did great things for his country. Yet he was criticized and made countless huge mistakes. This does not prevent us today from remembering him, 55 years after his death, as the man who defeated Hitler.
As Winston Churchill himself said: “We must judge men and kings at the moments of truth in their existence”.
Currently, the greatest man of the XXᵉ century and last great defender of freedom against fascism in Europe, is judged for his heroic act of 1940: it was not always so.
Winston Churchill’s Mistakes
Churchill was not always considered a great man. Worse still, he was criticized and considered a traitor for leaving the Conservative Party. During the First World War, when he was Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill launched a military operation in Gallipoli which caused the death of thousands of British soldiers and almost ended his political career. As Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance) Churchill had a catastrophic balance sheet and he said it himself: he is not a financier. He supported King Edward during the abdication crisis which alienated all the nobility and the British conservative political class.
Each individual mistake is enough to destroy a career, but we don’t remember it today: why?
- Churchill: the journalist-writer
It all started for Churchill when he left Sandhurst Military Academy. He was thirsty for adventure. After Cuba, he took part in the British colonial wars in India, South Africa, Kenya and many more. Although he began with a military career, Churchill was eager to serve the British Empire in politics, particularly as Prime Minister.
Also, Churchill was convinced that he was going to die young, like all his ancestors. He wanted to accelerate his career. Being a big spender and a bon vivant, Churchill was perpetually short of money: he needed easy money and an immediate gain in notoriety. So he became a war correspondent for British newspapers. Churchill recounted his adventures and criticized military strategic choices. This greatly helped him to launch a political career at barely 25 years old: he was already famous for his articles.
That’s not all, Churchill was also a prolific writer. His literary works and speeches alone are more words than Dickens and Shakespeare combined. Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952. It is normally the work of a lifetime, for him it was only one among others.
Find out more about Churchill’s training modes in this article.
- A First World War to train
Churchill made mistakes. Many errors and serious errors. Tens of thousands of young Britons died in action for his stubbornness at Gallipoli.
In the end, it was a chance for him and for England. He was able to make mistakes in the field, learn to manage his stress and his passions for military operations: he concretely learned the art of war and strategy.
- Understanding of Nazism
From the end of the 1920s, Churchill began to perceive the danger of Nazism. He had already seen different types of fundamentalism up close during the colonial campaigns of the British Empire: he knew how these movements worked. He went back to the press and wrote dozens of articles on the dangers of Hitler and Nazism. In politicians’ clubs, Churchill regularly broached these topics.
In short, Churchill had become one of the few in Europe to really fight against Nazism. This may seem logical to us today, but in the 1930s it was not. Many politicians were anti-Semitic, and to give you some background, Neuville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister at the start of the war, believed in his ability to keep Hitler quiet until he invaded Poland. Churchill was right when everyone was blind.
To learn more about Winston Churchill, visit this blog.
Churchill, the man for the job
He says it himself and many of his biographers say it: it seems that his life led him straight to May 1940, when he took up his post as Prime Minister in a time of war. In fact, it is. In the words of Philippe Gabilliet: “Churchill has never ceased, throughout his life, to approach the situations that made him a leader. Military, journalistic, literary and rhetorical”.
After years of political error and mistakes, Churchill had once again become popular. He was the one who warned. The one who had seen the dangers. The one who warned and announced the painful realities. When the entire British political class wanted peace and saw no other way out, Churchill lived in danger of British submission. A great romantic, a lover of Napoleon and chivalrous tales, Churchill could not accept seeing the empire so dear to his heart fall. Military, Churchill had taken part has many battles: he knew what it was possible to do or not.
A great writer and rhetorician, Churchill gave the old lion’s roar that would set the hearts of frightened Englishmen ablaze and give them the strength to carry on. He could find the right words and that’s what he did: “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle”.
- “I have nothing for you but blood, sweat and tears”
- “This is our policy. You ask what our goal is? I’ll tell you in a nutshell: it’s victory, victory at all costs, victory despite terror, victory no matter how much time and effort it takes. “
- “We will go all the way, we will fight in France, we will fight on the seas and the oceans, we will fight with ever more confidence and growing strength in the air, we will defend our Island, whatever whatever the cost, we will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the airstrips, we will fight in the fields and in the streets, we will fight in the hills; we will never surrender”
These are the words spoken by Churchill. He gathered all his military skills, his knowledge of the horror of war, his command of the English language to lift up the British people. He then worked to keep De Gaulle’s Free France in the war, to invite the United States to join the conflict and to create the alliance of free peoples with Russia.
In short, without Churchill who knows what would have happened? If the British had surrendered, perhaps all of Europe would be under German rule.
Every day, let’s identify the actions we can take to become a leader
Have you ever heard of Lord Randolph Churchill? Winston’s father? There is little chance. However, he was a famous English politician. Without World War II, we wouldn’t know Winston Churchill either. He would be an English politician like any other.
Major events make leaders. Everyone sooner or later faces a choice, a choice that could change their life forever. Some have chosen to revolutionize aerospace and the automobile, some to bring computing to everyone, some to be defenders of freedom and others to fight for the climate emergency. Each of us has values that he wants to defend and that are dear to him.
It is therefore up to us to imitate Churchill. It is up to us to make this decision, the decision to move closer every day to situations in which we can embody the role of the leader in order to be ready. Ready to make the right choice when necessary and able to inspire others to follow us.