Our Observations

Churchill: A Lesson for Leaders

“He mobilized the English language and set it into battle,” famed CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow once remarked about Winston Churchill.

Perhaps no world leader understood the power of words to inspire as much as the former prime minister of the United Kingdom. In a recent article for the National Conference of State Legislatures, we wrote about a session for state legislative leaders conducted by North Carolina State Representative Craig Horn, who is a Churchill expert.  Horn described the painstaking process Churchill took to combine wit, wisdom and words into commanding and persuasive soliloquies.

Churchill understood that the first tool of a great leader is the ability to communicate. For any speech, he insisted on beginning strongly, painting pictures with words and ending with emotion. (For the best summaries of Winston’s best openers, closers and anecdotes, we enthusiastically recommend “The Wit & Wisdom of Winston Churchill” by James C. Humes.)

Interestingly, Horn said Churchill learned his communications skills from American politician William Bourke Cockran. Churchill considered Cockran, who spoke as a keynote speaker in three political conventions, as his mentor. He told Churchill it’s critical to believe in what you are talking about, and to be sincere.

Whether it’s leading a country into battle, or simply trying to lead a team into unchartered territory, words matter. If someone like Churchill knew that the extra time and effort put into those words was worthwhile, then every leader--whether in the public or private sector--should follow his example and compose words that inspire and spur innovation.

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