To some people, Winston Churchill was an arrogant man. Those who saw him this way failed to see the whole of his ability, and therefore missed the essence of the man. Churchill was very capable of almost everything he put his hand or mind to. He was both a force of reason and a force of will.
In the days of his young adulthood, Winston Churchill sought out danger and fortune, with an eye on what the exposure would do for him in political life, and also on the excitement it would bring him. He lived with zest and brought his sense of adventure to almost everything he did. Not a strong lad, and somewhat challenged with numbers and mathematics, Churchill excelled in vocabulary, classic literature, and history. He was capable of sports and physical activity, but he would not strain himself unless it was necessary.
Churchill learned what his limitations were and tested them by striving to transcend them. Later in life, while in political purgatory before the war, he learned how to paint and built stone walls in the gardens around his home. He managed to plant a large garden and use a bulldozer to dig out a pond on his farm.
The more that Churchill did in his life, the more confident he became, both in his abilities and in himself. He was not overconfident, but centered in his belief in his abilities, in what he understood, and what he stood for. Churchill stood with confidence and set a standard that others looked up to. His confidence was contagious. He was the model of perseverance, and of physical and mental energy. The morning after the first blitz, he drove down to the docks, to the center of the destruction. He set the tone for his people by being there, on the front line, asking the people if they were disheartened. The crowds always answered “NO!” Their leader was not disheartened, so neither were they.
A leader who questions his core beliefs cannot and will not lead, for the people will see right through him. Churchill possessed the right combination of skills and experience to be the right leader for the time. Without a centered belief in what he was doing and in himself, he could not have led.
He was not an expert, but he depended on experts to show him new ideas, and he trusted his ability to recognize brilliant mavericks and to back them. When presented with ideas by Beaverbrook, Dowding, Hobart, and others, he gave them the freedom to take action, backed them, and removed obstacles from their paths. As the mavericks succeeded, Churchill’s confidence soared. His confidence allowed him to focus on strategies for fighting the war and allowed him to woo Roosevelt into providing the materials England needed to fight the Nazi Blitz.
“In the end we will break their hearts,” Churchill said in November 1939, before taking the reigns of the British government. As First Lord of the Admiralty he stood before the House of Commons and said, “We shall suffer, and we shall suffer continually, but by perseverance and by taking measures on the largest scale, I feel no doubt that in the end we shall break their hearts.”
Churchill understood that the real problem facing the British Navy was the German U-Boats, not the German Surface Fleet. From his position as the First Lord, it was his business to know not only his fleet capabilities, but the capabilities of the enemy fleet. He knew the leaders of the British Navy and understood them to be well trained and prepared because he had worked to train and prepare them.
A leader’s centered belief in his abilities and his knowledge, and in the abilities and knowledge of those around him, is contagious. It is a weapon against Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.
How many times have you watched a business leader fail because of the inability to make a decision, or seen someone attempt to blame a bad decision on a peer—or worse, a subordinate? Most of us have seen example after example of timid leaders who lack a centered belief in themselves.
When a leader does not believe in their own abilities they cannot believe in others, and they will always doubt. That doubt will undermine not only their confidence but the confidence of their subordinates. Just as confidence is contagious, so is doubt. Doubt can spread quickly in an organization.
Churchill understood that.