Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Churchill Series - Jun. 11, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

In yesterday's post I said:

Whenever Churchill’s wartime leadership is discussed, his determination and ability to inspire hope are invariably cited as two of his most important leadership qualities. There’s no doubt about the importance of either of those qualities.

But I want to introduce here and in a follow-up post tomorrow something I think was very important to the success of Churchill’s wartime leadership, but doesn’t receive much attention from historians.

It’s what for want of a better term I’ll call Churchill’s ability to remind people at certain key psychological moments about "on the other hand.”

Churchill used not the words “on the other hand” but the sense of their meaning to help the British people moderate the emotional highs that followed victories and the lows that followed defeats. He knew emotional "roller coasters" could destroy the constancy the public needed to see the war through to final victory.

As he so often said, "In war, resolution."
Today I want to share with you an appreciation of Churchill's "on the other hand" leadership found in Jon Meacham's Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship.

Meacham explains how Churchill presented to the British people the news of the great victory at El Alamein in November, 1943:
[Churchill] did not want the good news from North Africa to lull his listeners into thinking the hard work was over. "I promise nothing," Churchill said. "I predict nothing."

Winning battles did not mean winning the war, and just as the British has borne early defeats with equanimity, so now they must resist overreacting to success.

This was insightful psychological leadership on a grand scale: The natural reaction of a war-weary people to the glory of El Alamein – it had indeed been a long time since London could celebrate a victory – was to exhale and begin to think that perhaps the worst was over.

Churchill knew better and told the nation so. “I know of nothing that has happened yet which justifies the hope that the war will not be long, or that bitter and bloody years do not lie ahead,” he said.
(p. 203)
Between them, Churchill and Meacham make my point so well there’s nothing I feel I need to add except to wish you a nice day.