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Learning leadership from Winston Churchill

| by Margaret Marcuson

After the success of the movie Darkest Hour and the Oscar-winning performance by Gary Oldman, I was reminded how much I appreciate Winston Churchill’s leadership. There is much to learn from him about how to lead when times are tough. (And we can appreciate how easy our challenges are by comparison.)

I once visited the Churchill War Rooms in London, an underground warren which was used as the planning base for the British effort in World War II. The rooms were left behind almost intact after the war ended, and made into a museum in the ’80s. So, there’s a sense of immediacy about them. 

Looking at the maps with pins designating the advance of armies, I sensed the difficulties of their decision-making. They had to make choices with high stakes over the years, without knowing whether they would be successful.

We know a lot of things about Churchill’s life, but this experience brought the day-to-day decisions and challenges front and center. There are three things that Churchill did as a leader, which I hope you’re doing as well:

1. He was brave. Leadership requires courage. Churchill was courageous and inspired the British people by his speeches (listen here). This didn’t mean he never struggled or had doubts. However, he knew the importance of his role at this time in history, and that it was essential that he kept going.

2. He surrounded himself with great people and challenged them. The museum highlights a number of the people in both leadership and support positions who made Churchill’s job easier. He expected everything of them. They worked doggedly and were deeply committed both to him and the war effort. In church, you sometimes have to accept the leaders you’ve got, but you can do your best to challenge the folks you have to do their best to meet the opportunity at hand.

3. He took care of himself.  Churchill was a “larger than life” personality. He only dressed up when necessary (he even liked to work in his pajamas or in the bath). He took a nap every afternoon, then got up refreshed and ready to work a second shift. (His staff, on the other hand, didn’t get the same opportunity and still had to keep working.) He knew it was important to sustain himself for the hard work ahead.

As you consider these leadership tips from Churchill, ask yourself, What can I do to become more courageous in my leadership?

Photo source: istock 


Margaret Marcuson

Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources. Margaret is the author of Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry and MoneyandYour Ministry: Balance the Books While Keeping Your Balance. She served as a pastor for 15 years.



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