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A Great Business Leader for Any Age

On Jan. 24, 1965, exactly 50 years ago this week, the statesman who Time magazine in 1950 dubbed the Man of the Half Century, died peacefully. Sir Winston Churchill was given a state funeral reserved for Great Britain’s monarchs. As the funeral barge bearing his body to the country churchyard where he was to be buried cruised slowly down the Thames, with tens of thousands of mourners lining the river’s banks, the giant construction cranes along the way dipped their giant arms in homage. By 1940, with all of Europe overrun by the Nazis, England alone held out against Germany’s military might. When Churchill was appointed prime minister, with a singular focus stemming from his iron will, he kept England in the war until America’s isolationist foreign policy was shattered on Dec. 7, 1941. Eminently aware that he represented the entire English nation in its greatest moment of peril, at the war’s conclusion he portrayed himself as just its spokesperson: “It was a nation and race dwelling all round that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.” What better self-description for a consummate communicator could there be? He received the Nobel Prize for Literature; wrote 43 book-length works; became a painter of some merit; was in front-line combat in three wars; overcame both a speech impediment and bouts of depression; and became the most quoted statesman in history. So what are the lessons to be learned from this extraordinary life? Perhaps foremost among them is a demonstration of the importance of the role of the leader in achieving success. Churchill realized that to be an effective leader, perception is as important as reality. While he privately despaired of England’s ability to hold out alone against Germany, publicly, he was the picture of dogged optimism. Standing on a pile of rubble in London’s bombed-out East End, he still flashed his “V” for victory sign. He knew that leadership is announcing, in both word and deed, “Follow me!” On D-Day, June 7, 1944, he had planned to be aboard one of the first ships to land on the beaches of Normandy, until King George VI specifically forbade him to put himself in harm’s way. A second quality Churchill possessed in full measure was dogged determination, his single-minded dedication to prevailing over near-insurmountable odds. To some degree, his success was based on his acknowledgement of failure: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” In 1940, with the war going badly, he spoke to the nation, “You ask what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory however long and hard the road may be. For without victory there is no survival.” A year later, speaking to a group of students, he said, “Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” A third attribute he exhibited throughout his long life was a frustration with inaction and bureaucracy. To help overcome it, he had notepads printed that commanded at the top, “Action This Day.” Recipients of those notes knew that whatever he ordered was to be completed before they left their posts. We could use a bit of “Action This Day” in business. Churchill was a multi-faceted success largely as a result of those three attributes: the ability to lead; a determination to succeed despite looming failure; and an awareness that action must overcome inertia. All are also attributes of successful businesspeople. It is often said that the study of great people is a good foundation for success. Although a man of the Victorian Age, Churchill demonstrated the abilities that lead to success in the 21st Century: leadership, determination and action. Business Times magazine said of him: “If you remove Churchill from his political context, he would have the resume to be among the great business leaders of any age.” His “organization” was England, but what he did and wrote is applicable to any organization today. Martin M. Cooper is president of Cooper Communications Inc., an Encino public relations firm. – How to reach us Guest Opinions: Op-ed pieces must be 700 to 800 words and on topics about the San Fernando Valley business community. Please submit op-ed ideas to editor@sfvbj.com.

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