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Leaders of men
To be a Leader
What it takes to be a leader is something that has interested and yet confused me for a long time. You'd think that it would be something that would be relatively straightforward, something where you either had the skills or didn't. Surely a leader is someone that others want to follow right?
I spent a few formative years in the Army and I suppose that has always colored my thinking. There the leaders were people that the soldiers would literally follow all the way 'to the gates of hell and back'. They were the men and women whom you could trust and could trust that those under their command would be there when they were needed, but out of the Army those kind of leaders seem few and far between (I've had the honor of knowing some, but they are few and far between) so it's got me thinking of what it takes to be a leader only instead I want to look at what it takes through the lives of three men who literally hanged the world.
So, what does it take to be a leader? Are there any people we can look at that might help us understand what it takes to be a leader?
When I was in the military there was a type of leader that I would come across that for me typified what a leader should be like. One you'd happily follow 'To hell and back' but since coming out of the Army I've found them few and far between yet many claim the title of a leader (politicians and managers etc). Sometimes it seems that the modern version of a leader is the one who knows whom to 'throw under the bus' (I'm a Bus driver) and that disturbs me a lot.
Some of my heroes were leaders
I want to look at their lives.
Lesson no 1 The power of a conscience (William Wilberforce)
William Wilberforce. The power of a conscience
William Wilberforce (1759-1833)
Today we can't imagine a world where men were kept as slaves and worked until they died simply because they could, where cruelty to animals was common and alcoholism was rampant, education was only for the rich or gifted and almost no one had the right to vote. That was the world three hundred years ago. Britain was the most powerful nation on the Planet yet things were changing.
Britain ruled the waves, yet she did it on the backs of slaves taken from their tribes in Africa and shipped to wherever they were needed and all in the name of King country and profit.
Slavery has been around since the dawn of time (it's still around today, but it's now illegal and despised) but what was shocking was that it was considered normal and even morally right to own slaves! Some slave owners were good to their slaves but the fact remains it was a blight on humanity.
Wilberforce was from a merchant family and most of the merchant families had built their fortunes on slavery. He was actually from the only port city in England that didn't trade in slaves, not because of any moral issues but simply because it was on the wrong side of the country, the East Coast city of Hull.
In a time when slavery was considered morally OK and even beneficial to the slaves he was the lone voice that proclaimed in Parliament that it was wrong and needed changing!
Wilberforce wasn't the first to realize that slavery was wrong, in fact he had help on the way and some of it very famous. As a boy he'd come under the tutelage of John Newton an Anglican priest who had been a slave trader for many years. It was Newton who wrote Amazing grace.
Wilberforce was never blessed with good health, not the kind of thing you want when you take of a task of such huge proportions. Often battling alone in Parliament he fought for what he believed was right. He believed the Americans to be right to want their independence and was vocal in his support (being accused of being a traitor and only his friendship with William Pitt keeping him out of jail) He also opposed Britain's wars with Napoleon for the same reason, for that he was ostracized for a while but he kept fighting for what he believed was right even when it wasn't popular.
It took fifty years for Wilberforce to change the hearts and minds of the British to outlaw first the slave trade (1809) and finally slavery itself (1832). Slavery was finally abolished in the British empire just before he died but what a fight it had been
And all because one man had the conscience to stand for what was right no matter the cost! That's what Leaders do.
Just a preview
Lesson no 2 own up to your mistakes (Churchill)
Churchill. leaders always take responsibility for their actions
And you thought Downton Abbey was a work of fiction! No Churchill actually lived that life. The son of a British Aristocrat and wealthy American heiress he was born into the seeming luxury of the upper classes
Horrible decisions have to be made
Winston as you never knew him
Churchill Never ask a man to do what you're not prepared to!
Winston Churchill is often remembered as the great leader of the British people during their darkest days. What's often not realized is he was also responsible for the greatest disaster in British Military history, the Gallipoli campaign of WW1
In the early stages of WW1 the Germans had persuaded the Ottomans that it was in their interests to join the Axis forces to drive the British out of the Middle East. The decision was a purely strategic one from the German point of view. If they could get the Ottomans to capture the Suez Canal then the main artery of the British Empire would be cut thus vastly increasing chances of success in Europe. Failing that if they could just tie down British troops in the Middle East then that would be almost as good.
Ottoman Naval units had already been in action against the Russian Black sea fleet sinking a number of their ships and were beginning to pose a threat to the British in the Mediterranean.
In Early 1915 the Ottomans launched an attack on the Suez and were driven back but the British realized just how vulnerable they were and needed a plan to take the Ottomans out of the war.
Churchill was 1st Lord of the Admiralty at the time and set about planning a way to neutralize Turkey thus allowing Britain to concentrate on winning in Europe. The plan was simple, send a fleet (possibly a squadron of Battleships) through the Dardanelles to pound Constantinople into submission (The Brits wrote the book on 'gunboat diplomacy') but they hit a snag when it was realized that the straits were mined and had major gun emplacements protecting the approach.
The solution was to send troops ashore to capture and secure the peninsular so that the mines could be cleared and the Battleships could get through. The problem was the Ottomans were waiting.
The campaign took almost a year and was a total disaster with over 200,000 British and 50,000 French soldiers losing their lives for a disastrous campaign.
Churchill, as first Lord of the Admiralty took the brunt of the blame despite the fact he probably had little to do with the actual planning and not only resigned as a member of cabinet but also as a member of parliament and rejoined the Army to serve in France where he was appointed commander of the Scots Fusileers and went to the front line.
Churchill knew what it was like to serve on the front line as a soldier. He'd already served in the Sudan, India and the Boer war yet he was never willing to ask a man to do what he wasn't prepared to himself!
Another harrowing thing Churchill had to do was during WW2 the British had broken the Nazi's codes and often knew when devastating bombing raids were coming sometimes before the crews carrying out the raids. One such was Coventry where Churchill was faced with the worst dilemma any leader could face, he read the order given by the German high command to obliterate Coventry the day before the raid. he had a choice, evacuate the city and let the Germans know their codes had been broken or say nothing and see thousands perish. He chose the latter.
Throughout the war Churchill would walk among the people in the height of difficulty frequently. He was very much a leader who led from the front, but not only that he was also one who never 'passed the buck'
What Churchill said about the desperate Battle of Britain
Lesson no 3 Never forget your friends (Churchill)
an interesting story I found out about Churchill was that he was a man who always remembered whom his friends were.
At the outbreak of WW1 Churchill as 1st Lord of the Admiralty (basically the same as the American Secretary of the Navy) he had a problem that the Royal Navy didn't have the ammunition to face off against the German Navy. They needed cordite and lots of it within a matter of weeks!
He was told of one man, a chemist at the university of Manchester who had developed a new process for making cordite that might help, so Churchill met with him. The man was a Jewish Zionist by the name of Chaim Weizmann.
The outcome was that Weizmann made the 60,000 tons of cordite the navy needed within four months, but he talked Churchill into considering the establishment of a Jewish state. Churchill's reaction was that Britain owed the Jewish race so much that they dare not turn their backs on them and he did all in his power to honor that agreement Churchill was a man of his word.