Management Lessons from HistoryBy: Robert H. Kent, Ph.D., CMC
Consider some of his strengths. Churchill never gave up! He believed in himself and in his view of the world and like the tenacious bulldog he resembled, he stuck to his ideals right to the end. And excluding his oratory showmanship, he depersonalized the criticism between himself and his political colleagues and opponents. His feet were planted in reality.
Proactive, never at rest, he created his own luck and circumstance. This sense of urgency coloured his whole life and fueled the "gentle relentless pressure" he used to initiate a surprising amount of social change. Of course he was the master of using symbolism: verbal, written and visual. He led with every faculty he could muster.
But it's this man's failings where we could learn a management lesson of caution. A man of his times and his profession, Churchill practised Cabinet loyalty to a fault. Many times, as his government's best communicator, he was pressed to defend publicly the policies and government actions he passionately fought against within the solidarity of the Cabinet. In the short run this "common front" was politically expedient for the government. However, for Churchill, the undeserving association with government decisions he believed were wrong hurt his long term credibility and his effectiveness when his opinions and wisdom were critically needed.
Throughout this biography, you see disheartening examples of ineptitude and self-serving stubbornness within the British cabinet and other groups of military and political strategists. Too often Churchill's loyalty to the party or to "the system" led him to defer to the collective wisdom of the group, despite history repeatedly proving him right and them wrong. The results, one could argue, cost millions of lives.
A lesson for business or political leaders, and also for the spectators -- employees and citizenry -- is to be cautious when you give power to a group, and in particular when you solicit ideas from or delegate decision power to groups of employees or advisors.
Decades ago researcher Irving Janis wrote about "Group Think", the phenomenon where working groups perceive themselves invulnerable. They collectively reinforce their own ignorance. But Churchill's life also shows that where activity, risk taking and the need for implementing change are the issues, groups may protect the status quo and abhor any risk. This is especially true when membership in the group is the ultimate reward and measure of success, as opposed to the long-term quality of the decisions the group makes.
© Copyright 2001 The Mansis Development Corporation
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