The “leadership landscape” appears to be in shambles as we head towards the second decade of the 21st century. Politics are marred by uninspiring folk blaming each other for their own ineptitude, while the corporate world has seen a parade of lackluster performers, ending brief tenures at major corporations with large pay packages only to fade into obscurity, leaving only disgruntled employees and angry shareholders in their wake.
While I’ll leave the pondering on how we got into this state of affairs to the philosophers and academics, I will offer five insights inspired by a recent visit to the Churchill museum that may help save others from this management leadership funk.
The Power of Speech winston cigarettes
No one in recent memory mastered the art of the oratory better than Sir Winston. He inspired several nations during World War II, and haunted the world for the next fifty years with the phrase “iron curtain,” which he coined. As you move up in an organization, so should your mastery of speech. Titles still command some form of attention, but nothing shatters this “respect freebie” more quickly than a poorly formed or delivered speech. Even if speaking to a small group in an informal setting, a leader is harshly judged by how he or she delivers a message especially when speaking.
Don’t Leave Your Guts at Home
Churchill did not shy away from conflict, and spoke with passion and conviction, even though perhaps it offended as much as it inspired. With the surfeit of information available to all levels of society, our collective “BS Meter” has grown more highly tuned than ever. A polished speech or email that has been sanitized by a small army from corporate counsel, and had every iota of meaning replaced with noncommittal platitudes does nothing to inspire. Big words with no meaning are no substitute for delivering hard news in all its ugly detail, or sharing inspiration and success in their unadulterated fury. Curse, become enraged if the situation warrants, raise your voice and shake your fists… and judge your message by the approval of your followers, not the sign-off by the HR Communications Committee.
Take a Stand
Time is of the essence in war and business. Churchill had a fundamental conviction that England could not fall to the Germans, and that nothing short of the fate of the entire civilized world was at stake. He knew and advised his subordinates that there was not always sufficient time for the absolute best decision, but once a decision was made, it should be followed through until superseded by another decision that better fit within the framework of his fundamental conviction. Business leaders need a fundamental conviction. This separates indecision due to short-term objectives and politicking with decisions that consistently further a long-range, fundamental objective. Subordinates must also subscribe to this conviction and drive its adoption to all levels of the organization. The framework of a fundamental conviction makes hard decisions easier, and makes sense out of the mundane short-term steps that must be taken to achieve the fundamental conviction.
This should not be a mission statement, or bullet list of platitudes designed and approved by committee. “We make the best products in the world and will eat our competition alive, because our livelihood depends on it” is a conviction. “Do no evil” also works. “We try harder” or “Through the delivery of innovative design, implementation and continuous improvement of processes, we are dedicated to the business success of our clients and partners, the growth and personal fulfillment of our employees, and the satisfaction of our shareholders” would have Churchill spitting his whiskey through a stream of disgusted curses.
Being Dumb is not Cute
Although he trusted his military advisors, Churchill would question fine points of military strategy using his knowledge of the subject, if for nothing more than to further his own understanding and reveal the fundamental logic behind the strategy. I am constantly appalled by business leaders who make a joke out of their ignorance for a particular topic, as if a leader should not have at least a basic understanding of even esoteric technical details, if they are important to the “mission” at hand. With five minutes at the web browser, any person can become at least versed in nearly any topic, to the point where they can contribute to a discussion and not grin, giggle and plead ignorance when consulted for an opinion.
Churchill is often cited as one of the most colorful characters the world has ever seen. Perhaps the only thing stronger than his convictions were his flaws and overall “humanity.” When accused of being drunk on the floors of parliaments, rather than apologizing he responded in an affirmative, yet colorful manner. Churchill accepted his flaws, and when called to task on them, did not apologize or deliver a half-hearted statement meant to neither confirm nor deny, only to confuse. People will follow a colorful leader because he or she reminds them of themselves. In our zeal not to offend, we have buried that which makes us human: a sense of humor, hobbies, concern for family, etc. I would advise against drinking on the job, but letting the passing political climate strip your humanity and turn you into yet another talking head will only alienate those you wish to lead.