While Winston Churchill may have understood intellectually that defeat is always a possible outcome, emotionally he denied it. Churchill refused to accept defeat, believing with all his heart that eventually Britain, and the free world, would triumph over the horrible mechanization of Nazi Germany.
Churchill was not always successful, but he was successful when it mattered. Nonetheless, when he did fail, he would pick up and start over. In his political career he suffered many defeats. In those times he turned his attention to other endeavors while he watched, waited, and planned what his next move would be to get back into the ring.
One of the images that we have of Churchill is the determined “English Bulldog.” His face at that time of his life—he was in his mid to late 60s—helped to define that image. His famous “V” for Victory (created by a young Oxford archaeology don, C. E. Stevens) and smiling face created the image of the joy of victory. Just as Churchill maintained a positive balance in his demeanor, he maintained a positive balance in his attitude and outward projection. When presented with bad news about a loss on the battlefield, Churchill's response was, "We must just KBO," which meant "Keep Buggering On." That KBO attitude was a continuous thread in Churchill's correspondence and memoranda. An example is Churchill's telegraph to diplomat Randall Campbell: "Continue to pester, nag, invite, demand audiences. Don't take no for an answer." Winston Churchill understood that often the best way through resistance is to press against that resistance until it yields.
There is no doubt that Churchill was a serious man in a serious time, but his sense of humor and whimsy tell of a man who had the confidence and presence to be a victorious leader.
Churchill spoke to two audiences: The House of Commons and the common radio listener, and he knew how to play to each audience in a way that demonstrated both the seriousness of the situation and his confidence of victory. “We shall not flag or fail. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.” Those were the words that both the world radio audience and the House of Commons heard. But the House of Commons heard more—when he gave this speech to the House before his radio address, Churchill said, sotto voce, “We shall fight with pitchforks and broomsticks, it’s about all we’ve bloody got.”
Churchill's attitude toward defeat and his clear rejection of defeatist attitudes were woven into all his speeches. Churchill spoke often about the eventual victory, the inevitable victory that was going to be achieved through hard work, blood, sweat, and tears.
Churchill did not show defeat in his behavior, and he detested seeing defeat in anyone in the government or the military. Churchill would not hesitate to remove officers or leaders whose attitudes became defeatist. Logical arguments about defeat were often met with counter-arguments; Churchill would identify the root cause of the problem and would make suggestions for how to rectify the situation. If he sensed defeat in an officer’s heart he would not hesitate to sack that individual from their position of command. He used his authority to kill defeatism, once saying aloud as he walked up and down the empty cabinet room after a major sacking, “I want them all to feel my power.”
Churchill clearly understood that if you are defeated in your heart, you are defeated for real. What is this attitude really called?
How many times have you heard a leader say, “We are going to try this…”? Did they say it with conviction in their voice?
How about this example: “Please attempt to complete all the questions before time expires.” Does that line inspire you to work hard to finish? Or does “Please attempt” give you permission not to complete all the questions?
The word try, regardless of the tone, is itself a defeatist word. To “Try” is to attempt. An attempt lacks commitment, and without commitment, there is hesitancy, a tendency to pull back, not to give it your all, and accept something less.
Most failures in supply chain management stem from a lack of commitment to meet specifications. There are times where the specifications are not known, so people fail to reach them out of ignorance. But in most cases the standard of expectation is known, and our organizations “try” to reach them and fail, because our organizations fail to commit to reaching the standard. Later in this series I will address how Churchill set and maintained high standards, and I will talk about the importance of high standards. But more important is the drive to make commitments.
Churchill was bold. There was almost nothing the man could not do. And he did not just try, but would throw his whole being into whatever he was attempting. He had no fear of failure because failure was just another step, one that could be corrected.
In our world of supply chain management, there is a great fear of risk and failure. Because of that fear of failure, our organizations fail to achieve what they could, our people fail to achieve what they could, and we fail to achieve what we could.
If you are afraid of failure before you start, you are already defeated.
If you have courage in your heart before you start, you will have victory.