Taken in 1941, it’s one of history’s most iconic photos. Known around the world, the portrait dubbed the Roaring Lion captured the inner strength and indomitable fortitude of Sir Winston Churchill.
But ironically, Churchill’s inspiring pose almost didn’t happen.
For starters, the photo session did not go well. “You may take one photo,” Churchill told photographer Yousuf Karsh as he sat before him after delivering a speech to Canada’s House of Commons in Ottawa.
Worse yet, Churchill insisted on puffing a cigar, which interfered with the pose Karsh envisioned. After various attempts to persuade the prime minister to put it out, Karsh made a bold move and snatched the cigar from Churchill’s mouth. “Forgive me sir,” he said as he plucked out the lit cigar.
“By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me,” Karsh later recalled. “It was at that instant that I took the photograph.”
The resulting photo was seen by millions—even appearing on England’s five-pound note. Most importantly, the confidence it exuded helped galvanize the Brits during the darkest days of WWII.
Great leaders bounce back.
Churchill has been described as Britain’s greatest leader. He lived a long, heroic life and rallied a grateful nation with his stirring rhetoric. That’s common knowledge. But what’s not so well known is that he was forced to resign as First Lord of the Admiralty during WWI over his failed Dardanelles naval campaign. Casualties were heavy and the campaign ended in retreat.
Young, brash, and inexperienced, Churchill failed spectacularly on the world stage. After such a humiliating setback, many people would have retreated from the public eye and lived a quiet life. He was from a wealthy family and could’ve lived in very comfortable obscurity.
Instead, like all truly great leaders, Churchill rallied and went on to a life of service to others. He later famously said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is courage to continue that counts.”
Over the years, I’ve been inspired by Churchill’s often-quoted “Never give in” speech. In October 1941, he returned to his old military boarding school, Harrow, to address the boys. In awe of their most famous alumni, the whole school assembled in rapt attention. The great man stood up to speak: “Young men; never give up, never give up, never give up.” The entire speech lasted only a few seconds. Then he sat down.
At least, that’s the apocryphal version. Churchill did indeed say those words, but as part of a much longer speech. In conclusion he said, “Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
At the time of that speech, America had not yet joined the war. Victory for England was still four long years away. But great leaders are patient and persistent. Simply put, patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. It’s the steady application of long-term effort to reach a result—whether it’s winning a war or achieving lasting success for your company or organization.
That kind of patience is hard to come by. As leaders, we often experience pressure to succeed quickly, both by those we lead and by our executive peers. In today’s tech-driven culture, many tasks and chores have become so instantaneous that anything requiring patient perseverance can appear unattractive. We require instant returns and instant results.
But sometimes the biggest pay-offs are a long time coming.
In honor of Sir Winston, I propose three areas where we as leaders need to bounce back, be resolute and persevere…
1. Never give up being enthusiastic
Enthusiasm (like discouragement) is highly contagious. Being upbeat doesn’t mean we should walk around with a silly grin and pretend hardships and challenges aren’t real. They are. But we don’t have to let them set our attitude or our agenda. As survivalist Bear Grylls says, “Be the most enthusiastic person you know. Enthusiasm sustains you when times are tough, encourages those around you and is totally infectious.”
Easier said than done, right? It’s easy to wake up in the morning, vowing to be an encourager to your team. But it’s hard to sustain. I don’t have to tell you that life and work are subject to countless disappointments and discouragements. Perhaps when we’re tempted to give up, it’d be helpful to think like a farmer. When they sow a seed, they don’t expect to see the results immediately; it takes time. Same for us. It’s usually only when we look back months (or years) later that we can see how the seeds we planted in an individual or organization have finally produced a harvest.
When Sir Winston first flashed his “V for victory” sign, there was every reason to be discouraged. Some of his peers even called for surrender. But he continually inspired the troops and civilians with his unflinching, positive attitude. One of the keys to staying resilient and enthusiastic is to keep a long-range perspective—even when those around us are becoming despondent. Civil rights photographer Jordan Parks said, “Enthusiasm is the electricity of life.” His advice? “Act enthusiastic until it becomes a habit.”
2. Never give up doing the next right thing
It sounds simplistic. But taking things one doable step at a time can break a seemingly insurmountable task into a series of achievable goals. In my experience as a coach, focusing on doing the next right thing keeps our private and professional lives heading in the most beneficial direction.
Of course, this approach does not eliminate the need for long-term planning. In fact, I coach my clients on the importance of perspective and planning. But leadership is about action. Even with a brilliant strategy, nothing changes, nothing grows, nothing improves without taking action. So, it’s a balance: A skilled leader knows where he is going (developing strategy), but never allows his mind to race ahead beyond the immediate next step (taking action). Trying to do too many things at once can lead to feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and maybe even quitting altogether.
Your job as leader is to determine what that next right thing is—what is most necessary, what will be most effective, what will move you toward your overall goals. And of course, what aligns with your vision and values. Notice that the “next right thing” is not what others think you should do. It’s not what you imagine your peers (or friends or family) are expecting you to do. It’s what you know is right and lines up with your moral compass.
Action step? Be “in the moment” to discover what’s most called for. Tune into your surroundings—determine which people and projects need to be addressed right away. Don’t give up, and eventually you’ll see a positive ripple effect spread throughout your organization.
3. Never give up helping others succeed
We all want to succeed. That’s a common denominator among the highly motivated leaders I coach. But I’ve found that leaders who passionately support the development, accomplishments and well-being of othersare often the ones who find the most success in their own leadership.
At its core, good leadership is learning how to bring out the best in others.
Most people that we lead genuinely want to succeed, and it’s our job to equip them with what they need to develop and flourish. In his TED talks and books, Simon Sinek says a good motivator is to really get to know your people, and provide them with the resources and tools they need. Similarly, good leaders will remove any obstacles—like red tape, job insecurity, interpersonal conflict or toxic work culture.
According to Sinek, knowing that you want a person to succeed provides them with their reason to come to work, their “why.” Sinek suggests that if people know you care about what they do, they will give you their blood, sweat and tears; not because they have to, but because they want to.
I’ve found that confident, self-assured leaders show real concern and caring by helping their peers and employees. They offer to pitch in, do whatever is needed, and then give lavish praise and credit where it’s due.
Bringing out the best in others is a win all around—it frees you up to have more time, and it increases your group’s effectiveness. Wise leaders know how to inspire employees to achieve their dreams by putting the emphasis on others, not themselves. And they never give up on doing it.
“Failure is success in progress.”
That quote is by Albert Einstein, the world’s most renowned physicist. Like Churchill, his groundbreaking success did not come overnight.
As a young man in Berlin, Einstein began to think about light, electricity, magnetism and motion in new ways. His work led him to discover the special theory of relativity in 1905. But the discovery was not instantaneous or easy. According to Einstein, proving the theory took over seven years of hard work, setbacks and dead-ends.
Fortunately for all of us, he refused to give up—despite his failures.
By the way, Einstein never took an IQ test. But experts estimate his IQ was somewhere between 180 and 205. If this kind of genius didn’t achieve overnight solutions, why should we expect to?
We’ve just looked at three of the areas we all can improve in. But don’t be too hard on yourself in the process. After all, we’re seeking “progress, not perfection.” So if you slip up, or toss in the towel now and then, don’t despair. It was Churchill himself who said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
Personally, I’m enthusiastic about having conversations with leaders who might benefit from my perspective. To set up an informal chat about how I may be able to elevate your leadership skills or help your organization move forward, click here. In the setting that’s most convenient for you, we’ll have a relaxed dialogue about what matters most.