AMDG

In an age of weak leadership, perhaps it shouldn’t be seen as a surprise that the UK seems a little bit obsessed with Winston Churchill at the moment.  Whether it be the scary future of Brexit or just the nostalgic wallowing in a glorious past, or a bit of both – this monumental and heroic character’s history is being rewritten and reinterpreted again and again.  At the weekend I enjoyed seeing the latest effort – ‘The Darkest Hour‘ – the Oscar-nominated work of Joe Wright (Atonement). I don’t think I watched a film that has so little action and is so dialogue-driven, yet also so absorbing.  Obviously, the stakes are high, its 1940 and Britain is alone in standing up to Hitler.  Churchill has just been elected leader and it is his toughest year – everything looks lost, a German invasion imminent and monumental pressure is put on him to enter some negotiations with Herr Hitler.  The film is cleverly ambiguous, Halifax & Chamberlain are given a fair showing in the film and peace talks seem very reasonable. To qualify as a ‘just-war’ it needs to be a war of last-resort and Thomists and just-war theorists may quibble about who was right, but I think the wonderful line of Churchill, ‘ You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth‘ wins the day.

For me its a great study in leadership – Churchill standing at the dispatch box, with his Tory peers sitting in silence behind him, seething in passive aggression.  In their eyes his failure in the Dardanelles in the First World War and his flip-flopping to the Liberals is unforgivable. When leaders are ‘stress tested’ like this, its make or break time.  Its at times like this when a leader finds out who has ‘got their back’.  The two outstanding supports for Churchill, as portrayed by the film, are his wife Clement and King George VI.  A turning point is when the King, suspicious of Churchill at first, eventually says to him that he has his unequivocal support as he was the only man who when elected as leader struck fear in the heart of Hitler.

There is something lonely about authentic leadership – having to make key decisions that have big impacts/effects on people and living with the consequences.  There is a powerful image of the leader who is edging out onto the ice with everyone cheering them on from the sidelines. This support is flattering but of no use when you fall through the ice and there’s no one there to pull you out!  Ronald Heifetz in his very interesting book on ‘Adaptive Leadership’ has a lot of wisdom to share  –

 

Don’t do it alone – Sounds easy and obvious, but we have seen over and over again how people who are trying to do the right thing end out on a limb all alone. It is not only lonely out there; it is dangerous.  Those who see your good works as a threat will find you a much easier target if you are out there by yourself …. your opponents will do whatever it takes to make you vulnerable…. a much more subtle danger comes from your friends, you enjoy the plaudits that comes from being on the front line… but they say to themselves, ‘if the ice is strong enough we will follow him’, they clap harder as you inch your way across the frozen lake so you think they are right behind you, but when you look back you see them still onshore, wiating to see what happens… to keep you motivated they say things like ‘you are indespensible‘ …. which makes you feel good all over… Want to hear it again? Just inch out further onto the ice…. to avoid making this mistake, when someone tells you how wonderful you are, listen for that little voice inside yourself that says ‘I know I am terrific, but I’m not that terrific’