Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > More musings on Winston Churchill and bullying in leadership

More musings on Winston Churchill and bullying in leadership

This week’s blog is inspired by what I am reading. I read a lot of non-fiction for a start, and across a broad range of subjects where the common denominator is, to varying degrees, personal success or failure. And as for fiction, well a good story almost always revolves around the interplay between the cast of characters. Yes these are creations of the author’s imagination, but a well written book will involve a lot of things that apply to team dynamics and can provoke one’s thoughts on how well, or otherwise, things can be handled in the real world.

Talking of characters, a TV commercial has just been on featuring Darth Vader. As an example of a great fictional character there is a classic villain; just far enough over the top to still retain credibility, but leaving you in no doubt where you would stand as a subordinate. Compared to some of the plonkers I’ve worked for over the years Lord Vader would have been a welcome change.

Amongst my reading over the coming three weeks or so one Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill will loom large. He is a man who fascinates me. My parents could not stand him at any price and they both knew him best from his years of greatest triumph in World War 2, Dad having joined the Royal Navy at 19 as a stoker (like his Dad before him) and Mum serving as a 20 year old nurse in Coventry at the start of real hostilities.

We accord WSC heroic status these days, naming him as the greatest Englishman and so on, but this is all largely based on what he did in around 5 years of a 91 year life that, in many ways, saw so many failures. He did badly at school and had more careers than most people could contemplate; soldier, journalist, writer, historian and politician as well as being an accomplished artist. Crossing the floor from Tory to Liberal (and later back again), Under Secretary for the Colonies, President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty and then leaving for France to command an infantry battalion on the Western Front at 40.

So many of these, and later, positions led to failure of some sort, but there is little doubt that he was the man for the moment when, in those dark days of May 1940. At that time the British Empire stood alone against enemies on many fronts around the globe and WSC gave us the focal point that we needed.

I mentioned him here in the context of bullying in leadership a few weeks back. I am in no doubt that he was, in many ways, a bully, but does that diminish his leadership? Like so many things, it isn’t a straightforward question to answer. On the one hand how can we defend bullying, but I think that we also have to acknowledge that in doing so we are applying the standards of today to an age where things were very different. It was a time of urgency in getting things done and where hard decisions had to be made and objectives delivered.

The difference is that the type of bullying we need to stamp out is where someone torments the weak for the sake of it, but also acknowledge that there are people who will need to be coerced to do what is necessary to achieve a mutually required objective. WSC may have bullied the strong around to his way of thinking, but he never bullied the weak for personal pleasure.

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