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Leaders of men

Updated on January 31, 2015

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
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 became the epitome of determination to defeat his enemy
Churchill became the epitome of determination to defeat his enemy | Source

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

Some leaders have horrible decisions to make. Churchill knew beforehand this was going to happen and he couldn't warn the people without risking losing the war!
Some leaders have horrible decisions to make. Churchill knew beforehand this was going to happen and he couldn't warn the people without risking losing the war! | Source

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.

What do you do with this situation?


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    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      So true! Glad you enjoyed the hub.


    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 years ago

      Interesting background on two historical figures in British History. Good lesson about never forgetting a friend. There is an old saying "Never turn your back on an old friend to please an old enemy."

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Maybe. I think they both lived up to the motto

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I think "the buck stops here" originated with President Harry Truman. Perhaps Kennedy kept it.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I love that quote too. I read a book a few years ago called 'Wild at heart' (It's a book for men about being a man who loves God) that said every man should have a mentor, they can even be one who lived hundreds of years ago as long as you can relate to them. Wilberforce and Churchill are two of mine.

      Churchill made mistakes and he admitted to them. He took responsibility for them. One other quote (This time it was Kennedy I believe) was the sign saying "The buck stops here"

      Thank you for the vote up

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Very few people have what it takes to be a leader. Yu need not only vision and character, but the ability to understand and relate. It's the latter two that make others follow you. It is a great responsibility. Someone like Churchill was responsible for the fate of his country and so many of its people. There is a quote from him that I very much admire--never never never never give up. Vote up ++

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      To me being a leader is one who moulds opinions and makes decisions for the benefit of others. Those kind of people are worth following. Glad you liked the hub

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      3 years ago from Taos, NM

      These leaders are quite different than the so called 'leaders' of today. These men actually did what was best for their countries and their people. Today 'leaders' take a poll to decide what is best to do in their own interests and elections. Too bad there are not any Churchills and Wilberforces in this day and age. I enjoyed reading this.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      That was the point of the hub. I'm ex military so the style of leadership I saw in formative years was the kind that both Wilberforce and Churchill showed. They did what was right not because it was popular but because it was right.

      One story about Churchill I read in the book 'Churchill and the Jews' said that during ww2 the Nazi's tried to cause problems for Churchill by approving a ship to leave Romania (in 1941) full of Jews bound for Israel knowing full well that it would create major problems for the British.

      The Royal Navy intercepted the communique and sent a Destroyer to intercept the ship in international waters and turn in around, orders were given that Churchill was NOT TO BE TOLD!!!

      Churchill did find out and a communique was immediately sent to the Destroyer to proceed at top speed to intercept the ship again and escort it all the way to Israel. The next line of the orders was interesting because the commander was ordered if he ever received orders like the first ones he was to ignore the orders otherwise he would face court martial in future.

      By sending that order Churchill made it clear to the British Military that he never forgot his friends and he expected them to do the same!!

      Glad you liked the hub and I just had to share that story as you are so right about leaders not actually leading today!

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Churchill did what he thought was right for his country and the British people. I think the leaders back then really cared about the people they governed. I like that Churchill took responsibility for his mistakes. We really can not judge him, I think he did the best he could. Today we have a total lack of leadership in the government, and the example they make for the younger people is disgusting. I also think people were more mature and did what they had to do and knew how to follow orders. voted up

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      You're right there alancaster149. I don't think you're 'rubbishing' his reputation. My point was Churchill was willing to 'own up' to his mistakes (of which there were many) where today we see those in authority 'passing the buck'

      Churchill hated communism almost as much as he hated the Nazis. He was the one first used the phrase 'THE IRON CURTAIN'

      Thank you for putting things into perspective

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      On the converse side, WSC had a lot to answer for in other spheres of interest. Namely, before WWI he had coal mining interests in County Durham and neighbouring Northumberland. When the miners in the North East went on strike he pressured shopkeepers to cancel the men's credit in order to force them back to work. Those he considered to be the ringleaders were not hired back after the starving strikers went back to work. Many of the soldiers and other military personnel remembered that at the end of WWII when they voted him out of office. They recognised his usefulness during the war against Hitler, yet were aware of his limitations as a peacetime politician.

      Equally he was livid at the Russians for giving in to the Germans in 1917, freeing many divisions to fight on the Western Front against the Allies. At the time of the Russian Civil War in the early 1920s he had troops and the fledgling RAF sent east to the aid of the White Russians, on account of his owning shares in Russian factories.

      I don't want to rubbish Churchill, but being a Northeasterner myself I was made aware of his earlier record by my Dad. He knew of WSC's record as a wartime leader at first hand, but he was under no illusions about postwar needs.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Graham. I agree with you about the lack of leaders today. I know you made the comment about Britain, but I think it's in every walk of life a dearth of people willing to live to their convictions regardless of what others might think.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Lawrence. Well done an excellent hub. Yes Britain was built upon slavery it has to be said. Wilberforce did a first class job in the end. Churchill was a leader of the highest calibre. Today Britain suffers from proper leadership, today we need another Churchill but I do not see him in the ranks of the politicians of today.

      voted up and all.


    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      3 years ago from sunny Florida

      It is these back stories that often change history and we often do not hear of them.

      An introduction to someone who was a force in seeing that slavery was stopped is one I appreciate. I will be further researching him. and Mr. Churchill, remembering his friends and keeping his promise to them as much as he could is noble and honorable.

      thank you for this lesson I needed to know.

      Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Both Wilberforce and Churchill were men of integrity. They both did so much more than we realize. Wilberforce started the first organization fighting animal cruelty as well as fighting alcoholism and so much more. Glad you liked the hub

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Wow! Thanks for the comments alancaster 149. So many leaders to follow up on. Will keep me going for months! As for TE Lawrence he may get a hub of his own!

      Jodah. Sorry for the glaring omission. You're right about Gallipoli and the Anzacs. With Anzac day coming up I may just do a hub explaining it and what it means to us.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      William Wilberforce should be applauded for his tireless efforts to abolish slavery. Churchill was no doubt a great leader and his quote "never ask a man to do what you're not prepared to do" should be noted by world leaders today. However Gallipoli was a huge failure and thousands of men were virtually sacrificed, whether that was the fault of Churchill or leaders closer to the ground is conjecture. You didn't mention the Australians and New Zealanders killed, Lawrence.

      It is good that he was a man off is word but look at the results of the decision to create a Jewish State. To me his decisions seem to have cost thousands of mth at could have been avoided. Interesting hub however.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Interesting and well thought-out subject matter, Lawrence. Might I also suggest your namesake, T E Lawrence? He was someone many went to great lengths to fight with, once he'd shown the Arabs they could take Aqaba on the Red Sea to prevent the Turks from blasting the Royal Navy out of the water with their big guns (that out-ranged the Navy's).

      Edward III and his son Edward, the 'Black Prince' defeating the French at Crecy despite overwhelming odds 800 years ago, his descendant Henry V through son John Duke of Lancaster doing the same at Azincourt (Agincourt).

      Churchill's ancestor, John Churchill - made Duke of Marlborough by Queen Anne - personally led his troops against the French in War of the Spanish Succession. Not only could he show he was a great leader, he led them to victory time after time. His ultimate accolade came at Blenheim against the French and Bavarians.

      Another, Horatio Nelson, the admiral who took a victorious fleet of ships against the French more than once and lost his life the last time in October, 1805. Arthur Wellesley, first victorious at Assaye in India with a calculated risk. Made Duke of Wellington for his role in the Pensinsular War, chasing 'Boney' out of Spain, wrong-footing Marshal Soult each time and narrowly defeating Napoleon at Waterloo 200 years ago in June.

      Baden Powell holding out against the Boers at Ladysmith, confusing his enemy by making them think he had more men than were there.

      Winston Churchill had been in South Africa initially as an army officer, and then as a reporter, getting captured and escaping from his Boer captors. He didn't just know about making rousing speeches, but as First Lord unfortunately had to rely on others to conduct the campaign. The naval and army officers 'on the ground' in the Balkans lacked the imagination and initiative to carry out his campaign plans that might just have worked with other commanders such as Allenby (then in Cairo). In WWII his plan for Anzio came unstuck under the command of an over-cautious US General who, through his indecision allowed the Germans to bring up 'Anzio Annie' (the German rail gun) and blast the Allied army daily until Kesselring had to withdraw for fear of being outflanked.


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