Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born in 1874 to a wealthy mixed American and English aristocratic family. He was the eldest son of Randolph Churchill, a Tory democrat, and Jenny Jerome, a New York businessman’s daughter (Olayinka, 2019). Churchill idolized his mother but had a distant and cold relationship with his father. He studied at Harrow prep school but failed and joined the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1893 (Olayinka, 2019). After graduating from Sandhurst, Churchill traveled around Britain as a journalist, publisher, and soldier.
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He was sent to the London Morning Post in 1899 to cover South Africa’s Boer War, where he was captured upon arrival. Churchill later escaped from the Boers, bringing him to the public limelight. His political career started in 1897 – he held the following cabinet positions:
- The First Lord of Admiral (1911 – 1915);
- The Munitions Minister (1916 – 1919) (Olayinka, 2019);
- Conservative Member of Parliament of Epping (1924 – 1925) (Olayinka, 2019);
- The Exchequer Chancellor (1925 -1925);
- Prime Minister (1940 – 1945; 1952-1955) (Olayinka, 2019).
Churchill believed in liberalism, civil rights, and the radical reformation of social problems. One of Churchill’s hallmarks was his exemplary leadership skills during the Second World War and the Battle of Britain. His main contribution to the Battle of Britain was to rally the Britons by motivating and giving them hope. While the British government considered giving in to the Nazi’s demands, Churchill encouraged them to go to war and face their enemies. The British successfully defended against the destructive German air force (Luftwaffe) from July to September 1940. The objective of this paper is to analyze Churchill’s leadership qualities, characteristics, and leadership traits that contributed to his success during the Battle of Britain. It aims to examine Churchill’s leadership style using the transformation leadership theory as a point of reference to determine his leadership traits and qualities.
Transformational Leadership as a Tool of Analysis
Transformational leadership is a style where the leader collaborates with team members to identify and initiate change. The transformational leader’s (TL) primary role is to develop a vision for the team and guide them towards achieving the desired change through inspiration. Team members perform the basic tasks to accomplish shared goals, while the TL constantly pushes them to act outside their comfort zone through inspiration, motivation, and influence (Murray & Barnett, 2017). A TL must have the ability to influence people to accept change by evaluating their motives, needs, and values. TL is characterized by the 4Is: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration.
Factor 1: Idealized Influence
Idealized influence refers to the leader’s ability to influence teams by being a role model. Leaders with idealized influence are trusted and respected by their followers, motivating them to want to emulate the leaders (Murray & Barnett, 2017). These leaders typically have high ethical and moral conduct, and followers count on them to make the right decisions. Churchill’s charisma and beliefs made him a role model to both the military troops he commanded and the British citizens. He laid forth a moral vision supported by British citizens, becoming their role model. He advocated for progressive social reforms such as a mandatory minimum wage, a public health insurance system, eight-hour workdays, etc., gaining him much respect from the public and made him stand out from other politicians.
The social reformations also show that Churchill practiced what he preached, an essential characteristic of a role model. He aimed to change the living and working conditions of the poor; therefore, he pioneered the measures and initiatives that brought the necessary changes. Another aspect of Churchill’s beliefs is that they were transformative; they aimed to change the status quo. He was the main driving force behind the 1908-1911 welfare reforms and one of the people that founded the current British welfare state (Seligmann 2018). He also created penal reforms at his home office to improve the work conditions of coal-mine workers.
Although his advocacy stirred hatred from members of his social class, it also earned him respect and trust from the public. As mentioned, leaders with idealized influence are trusted and respected by their followers due to their high moral and ethical conduct. Churchill demonstrated his moral compass to his followers by advocating for the rights of the poor and seeking progressive reforms. Transformational leaders leverage their followers’ trust and respect to influence them to accept change.
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Factor 2: Inspirational Motivation
Inspirational motivation is a leader’s ability to motivate their followers to accept and commit to their vision. Motivation can energize human behaviour in pursuit of a common goal. Inspirational motivation is a leader’s attitude in dealing with the followers or subordinates’ emotions to build confidence about their performance. Typically, leaders use symbols or emotional appeal to get leaders to overlook their self-interests and commit to shared goals. Churchill used the V-symbol to rally his troops towards victory (Chris, 2015). In his speech “the Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin,” Churchill said that he was certain and confident that RAF would win, implying that he believed in their potential to win the war. Rather than providing material rewards, transformational leaders motivate followers’ performance by exerting their potential positively.
Churchill’s stated that his aim was: “victory, victory at all costs, victory despite all terror, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival” (Chris,2015). This vision guided the Britons during the wars. To qualify as a transformational leader, Churchill would need to stir his military troop towards this vision. Winston achieved his vision by convincing the British to forego their self-interests for the better good.
The British parliament wanted to hold peace negotiations with Hitler. However, Churchill convinced them against negotiating peace for a higher purpose: defeating the Nazis (“Battle of Britain,” 2020). Although signing the peace treaty would end the war quickly, it meant conceding to Nazi Germany’s demands. Churchill convinced them to overlook their self-interests (avoiding conflict) and focus on a bigger purpose. He made them understand that the risks of the peace treaty outweighed its benefits, justifying his vision. He created a vision and inspired his people towards achieving that vision through inspirational speeches.
Factor 3: Intellectual Stimulation
Intellectual stimulation refers to a TL’s ability to encourage creativity and innovation through challenging the status quo. Usually, TLs use this tactic to promote their followers’ critical thinking skills to solve problems (Moradi & Shahbazi, 2016). It involves motivating and encouraging employees to become more flexible and adaptive to new technical approaches in varied circumstances. According to Khan et al. (2020) transformational leaders use intellectual stimulation as a technique of enhancing intrinsic motivation. Encouraging creative problem solving can help followers achieve situational stability, boosting their self-confidence and motivation.
Winston used intellectual stimulation to change the beliefs and tactics of the British military. He suggested that instead of defending Britain, the military should attack German troops to reduce their resources to attack Britain. He wanted the Britons to change their defense tactic and assume an offensive strategy to increase the chances of winning the war. This tactic was based on the principles or basics of intellectual stimulation because it inspired the RAF to find creative solutions to problem (defense strategy). It was creative: it challenged the status quo (the defense technique) to bring novella and a creative way of fighting. The British military followed Churchill’s ideology and retaliated to German attacks by bombing Berlin (Strock, 2020). Attacking the Germans led to tragic losses on both sides and weakened Germany, giving the Britons an upper hand at war.
Furthermore, Churchill always encouraged his followers to ask questions and challenge his views. By allowing his subordinates to express their ideas and views, Churchill was intellectually stimulating them. Soliciting for ideas and debates usually prompts deeper discussions, which improves followers”’ understanding of the leader’s decision or action. The open discussions helped Churchill reflect on his ideas before making the final decisions (Gibson & Weber, 2015). Followers can learn and better predict leader’s reactions and responses to a particular problem, enhancing their problem-solving capacity and efficiency.
Factor 4: Individualized Consideration
Individualized consideration refers to a leader’s ability to encourage associates to reach their individual goals. Transformational leaders can support each of their follower’s needs through training or coaching or supervising their performances (Khan et al., 2020). Individual consideration is based on the social loafing concept, which postulates that individuals are less likely to lag when working in a team. According to the social loafing philosophy, people are likely to be more responsible and accountable when working alone than in a team. Therefore, a transformational leader needs to ensure they tend to the need of each follower to maximize their individual performance. Individual consideration refers to the support of leader for each follower. It may include training and coaching, allocating tasks according to the competence of each individual and supervision of performances.
Mostly, the leaders encourage their associates by inspiring and coaching them. Winston was adept at inspiring his military troops through his motivational speeches. In one of his speeches, Churchill stated that he had confidence that the British military would hold their position and emerge victorious because failure was not an option (“Battle of Britain,” 2020). This speech inspired the military to overcome their fears and boosted their morale. During the war ages, the Britons were hopeless and almost giving up. The media used the terms “utterly bewildered, shocked, defeatism, almost unbelieving dismay” to describe the public’s mood (Hoogenboezem, 2015). Churchill personal magnetism was reinforced by his commanding authority. His words conveyed passionate conviction and faith. These speeches were instrumental in boosting the morale of the British citizens and military. As a military commander, Churchill’s role was to create a supportive climate for his troops and identify each member needed. He mainly used motivational speeches to help each member grow and succeed (Murray & Barnett, 2017). This way, Churchill was able to support and strengthen his troops.
There are five main personality traits: neuroticism, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Churchill was an extrovert leader as he developed many relationships and focused on the energy outside himself. Extraverted individuals are usually energetic, open, and communicative. According to Northouse (2019), extroverts talk a lot, are well-liked in social settings, and like to contact other people (p.284). The nature of Churchill’s political work connotes extraversion.
Churchill is best known for giving inspirational speeches to the public and military forces. He was also outspoken about his ideologies and an active participant in political affairs. From his published works, it was evident that Churchill derived considerable satisfaction from his political works. According to Northouse (2019), an extrovert is a man of action and chooses to participate in every experience he encounters actively (p.284). Likewise, Churchill was always focused on external things and acted on them using his inspirational speeches.
Another critical defining characteristic of extraversion is creating relationships. Together with Joseph Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt, Churchill established an allied strategy. He recognized the importance of political and economic unity in war and proposed an American and British alliance or “brotherhood” against the Nazis. His personality was also instrumental in reinforcing the alliance, significantly contributing to the war’s success. A leader’s ability to create and maintain relationships is an extraversion trait.
Taking Risks and Learning from Failure
Churchill was willing to take the risk of controlling the Gallipoli peninsula because he recognized that it would give the British an upper hand in the war. After his loss in Dardanelles, Churchill learned that he needed appropriate authority to win a war; hence, he did not appoint a defense minister during the Second World War (Gibson & Weber, 2015). This approach gave him unilateral decision-making, ultimately leading to success.
Churchill was decisive and always accepted the consequences of his decisions. He used three decision-making techniques: keeping the problem as the central focus, balancing the risks and benefits, and, thirdly, ensured flexibility to allow the change in case new facts appeared (Strock, 2020). This approach resulted in informed and effective decisions.
Clear and Simple Communication
Churchill was not a natural public speaker, yet he is renowned for his great speeches in history. He used a considerable amount of energy to prepare his speeches and public delivery (Gibson & Weber, 2015). Churchill used simple and short words to express himself. He also used the accumulation of argument and analogy techniques to explain complex topics and help the audience understand his logic or perspective.
Commitment to Self Improvement
Churchill was committed to improving himself at a personal and professional level. He expected his subordinates to express opposing views and requested criticisms, which opened the opportunity for deeper discussion and new perspectives (Gibson & Weber, 2015).
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Management of People
Churchill’s team typically comprised of opinionated and expressive individuals. Churchill’s people management principle emphasized the need for leaders to select or recruit the “top men” particulary during the team formatiom process (Gibson & Weber, 2015). Additionally, he would first examine a position to understand who would be best-suited before selecting a candidate.
Identification of Traits
Churchill was courageous in advocating for his beliefs even though he knew it would meet criticism. He was initially a conservative in the House of Commons but “cross the chamber” to support his liberal ideologies because of his courage. Churchill was also not intimidated by the Nazi’s threats and stood his ground. Had Churchill waivered, Britain would have conceded to the Nazi’s power and caved to their demands.
Churchill was visionary; his war tactics were always guided by his vision of “achieving victory at any costs.”Churchill publicly communicated this vision to the public and rallied and influenced the military to believe in it (Strock, 2020). Leaders’ actions must be guided by clear goals to increase the likelihood of success.
Churchill was an effective communicator, explaining why he could influence and inspire the masses through speech. The main characteristic of Churchill’s communication style was simplicity and clarity. Using the techniques mentioned earlier, Churchill was successful in influencing and winning masses.
Churchill was dedicated to the improvement of his country, regardless of the criticism faced. He published numerous books describing his views on war, family background, and social reforms. He was also passionate about science, which proved to be an invaluable offensive resource against the Nazis.
Churchill was best known for his outspoken demands for progressive social reforms. He also established himself as a lone voice that advocated against German rearmament. Most importantly, Churchill was revered for his thought-provoking and inspiring speeches that gave morale and hope to the masses and military troops.
Success and Failures
Leadership success can be measured by outcomes such as accomplishing project goals, improving team and individual performance, and enhanced subordinate commitment to the organization. According to Olayinka (2019), a successful leader enhances creativity and solves problems with limited resources. Winston Churchill was a successful leader, evidenced by the accomplishment of goals. Churchill also succeeded in uniting and inspiring military troops, citizens, and parliament through his adept communication skills. He was also one of the founders that pioneered the current welfare state on the British Empire (Murray & Burnett, 2018). Although the British did not adopt some of Churchill’s reform propositions during his lifetime, they were adopted later after his death.
Winston Churchill sustained numerous failures throughout his military and political career. One of his most notable failures was the attack at Gallipoli that sustained over 500,000 casualties (Murray & Barnett, 2018). However, Churchill believed that the absence of failure was not a success indicator. Instead, he believed that “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” (Gibson & Weber, 2015). From this perspective, it can be argued that Churchill was successful despite his failures. Additionally, (Olayinka 2019) defines leadership failure as the inability to empower. Churchill was hugely successful in this metric as well.
Analysis of Churchill’s Leadership Qualities
Churchill had good communication skills that made him a charismatic orator. He believed in using simple and clear words while using analogies to explain complex concepts with consistent cadence and clarity. This communication style played a crucial role in inspiring the masses and communicating his vision to the public.
Churchill was also a visionary leader; he developed a vision and shared it in a simple and straightforward language. He adopted the “victory at all cost” policy and influenced the masses to support this vision through motivational inspiration. He also communicated this vision to the British citizens through his inspiration
Churchill demonstrated a solid ethical and moral ground by supporting his ideologies; he exhibited this trait even against the conservative culture. It takes courage to go against “your people” and support what you believe is right. Through his courage, Winston Churchill stood his ground against the Nazi demands that the British surrender.
A Steady Leader in Times of Crisis
Churchill was Britain’s anchor, especially during the time of crisis: he motivated and gave hope to the hopeless. When the Britons felt defeated, Churchill rallied and motivated them through his inspirational speeches (Murray & Barnett, 2017). These speeches gave them hope, confidence, and morale to face their fears as well as their enemies.
Finally, as an extravert, Churchill focused on action rather than contemplation. He believed in acting on his views and external experiences to bring value to the people. According to Murray and Barnett (2017), Churchill knew that his vision was nothing unless enforced or implemented. He was decisive in his actions, which helped him and his people fulfill their goals.
This analysis demonstrates that Winston Churchill was a transformational leader. As mentioned earlier, the primary role of a transformational leader is to bring change. Winston Churchill made drastic changes in Britain through his social reforms. He also changed Britain’s defense military tactic to an offensive strategy, which contributed to Britain’s success during the Battle of Britain. Transformational leaders identify inefficiencies and initiate change, just as Churchill identified the need to change the military tactic to improve their winning prospects.
Through examining the transformational leadership theory, it is apparent that Winston Churchill displayed several characteristics, traits, and behaviors of a transformational leader. His transformational leadership traits enabled him to create a vision and concentrate on it, enabling him to achieve success and victory for his country. He performed his duties as a democratic leader because he allowed his followers to express their opinions and views without repercussions. Winston Churchill encouraged and expected his subordinates to express their ideas.
The leadership qualities associated with his leadership style include effective communication, vision, courage, a steady leader during a crisis, and action. Churchill’s work was always guided by a vision communicated to the public in a clear and straightforward language. When his people were hopeless, Churchill gave them hope through inspirational motivation. He always acted on his vision and ideologies to bring about change. The leadership characteristics that influenced the Battle of Britain success include taking risks and learning from failure, decisiveness, effective communication, commitment to self-improvement, and appropriate people management skills. Churchill was willing to take risks and always took his failures as learning opportunities.
Most importantly, he believed that failure did not define success but retaining enthusiasm. He was bold and decisive and committed to improving himself. He believed that leaders should always choose the “top men” to make up their team. The takeaway lesson from Winston Churchill’s leadership is that one needs proper communication skills and the ability to provide solutions to become a leader. Additionally, the leader should have the courage to stand his ground amidst criticism and hostility. They should be bold, decisive, and be the anchor that supports their followers during a crisis.
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