Gwendolyn D. Galsworth reviews Winston Churchill’s 1959 book Memoirs of the Second World War.

Ask me for my favorite organisational development book and Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War jumps to mind in a nanosecond – the 1,016 page abridgement of his six-volume set.

Here is a book to savor, exquisitely written and with a plot that would read like bad fiction if it weren’t fact. While opinions differ on whether, among other things, the work is biased in favor of the Brits, unforgivingly forgetful of Poland’s contribution, and whether Churchill was seduced by the “new” reformed Stalin, Memoirs remains a remarkable exposition on leadership.

The short of it is: far too few bosses lead. Most don’t even realise they are not leading. While many may want to be leaders, even great leaders, most lack an understanding of the difference between leading and managing. As a result, they spend precious corporate and personal resources not leading – and wonder why they cannot move the enterprise forward or, in some cases, keep it from sinking.

Marry this to the trendy “lead as though you have no authority” and you have the opposite of a clarion leadership model. You have confusion.

That is why Memoirs holds such great value. It provides in telling detail a compelling, practical profile of the leader: Churchill in a time of war.

What chief, before or since, faced more complex challenges than Churchill… and over such an extended period with so few resources? In a time when the masters of industry struggle to balance their role as corporate operatives, financial stewards, and protectors of stockholder value, Churchill’s words – on and between the lines – provide an instructive and inspiring leadership case study.

We learn from Churchill’s example as he:

  1. Holds tight to a seemingly impossible vision in the face of rampant populist, peer, political, and enemy opposition;
  2. Takes advantage of every conceivable avenue for operationalising his vision;
  3. Does not allow himself to be sidetracked, even by dramatic distractions (e.g., Russia’s confounding flipflop);
  4. Does not let his own mistakes defeat him (and he made many);
  5. Develops numberless ways for citizens to contribute to small crucial victories (kaizen);
  6. Remains highly visible, using his personage as a crucial focal point for national identity, alignment, and hope;
  7. Takes care of his physical ability to lead, including highly-discipline afternoon naps so he is present and alert during Britain’s terrible night-time war;
  8. Builds a tough circle of allies, though many did not begin as staunch supporters;
  9. Is visible and expressive in his love of country, the British people, honor, fairness, and strength;
  10. Demonstrates in himself the courage he needs from others.

Memoirs as a book does not codify leadership. Instead, it draws us into naming it for ourselves. We remember what is often forgotten: what leading means and why it is not the same as managing.