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Expert Insight: Churchill Leadership Series
By David Schneider
Date: March 17, 2010

Supply Chain Comment: Behavior 1 - Build a Strong Organization of Capable People

Why It Was Important For Churchill To Influence The Actions Of Others


Churchill clearly understood that he could not do it alone. Having been involved in previous wars and in public service most of his life, and having seen the failures of others Winston Churchill clearly knew that his job was to influence the actions of others.


A Team Built On Trust


From the outset Churchill strived to be influential and not dictatorial. He constructed a team of military and civilian personnel who were clearly focused with aligned values on a singular goal; defeat Nazi Germany.  Churchill clearly understood that flexibility was needed, was a necessity in fighting the battle. Just as he understood that his country and his military needed to be flexible and innovative, Churchill understood that he needed to be flexible and innovative in his leadership style.

Churchill understood that to be effective he could not be the decision maker for everything;  he had to build an organization that made decisions following policy and logic.  To do that he had to build trust, in his trust in the team’s ability, trust between the team members and trust of the team in him.  To that goal he never forced his decisions on the team.  If his team opposed any initiative he proposed he would quickly abandon the idea. He'd never overruled the collective decision of the top leadership team. That did not mean that Winston Churchill was a wallflower; he could be emphatic with his suggestions and requests. And at times the forcefulness of his arguments would win over the decision of the team. But he always depended upon his powers of persuasion to influence and never dictated what the outcome should be.


Churchill As An Innovator


Churchill was innovative in his approach to how the war was managed and led. Having watched the failures and the inabilities of the British leaders in the WWI Churchill clearly understood that a new leadership dynamic was needed to assure victory. In this approach Churchill created new positions, new departments, and new ideas, encouraged others to think of new ideas and new methods - all in an effort to bring more resources to focus on the situation. These new departments and positions brought new vision and insight into the effort of fighting the war and created an atmosphere where the entire country was dedicated to the singular goal of defeating Nazi Germany.

Another innovation was that some of these new departments reported directly to the Prime Minister and not through the traditional chain of command of ministries within the government.  By creating this direct information conduit Churchill and the senior leadership team could access raw data and information, unfiltered and unfettered by the image protection efforts of the different layers of the traditional organization. Information flowed faster so Churchill and his leadership team had a clear vision of the facts; they could see the good, the bad and the ugly; and then make clear decisions of action based off of the true facts.

Challenging The Status Quo


Churchill insisted on bringing men of incredible character into the team – even those who were political foes.  He insisted on including men who had a history of friction with traditional organizations. Churchill could see the value of challenging the status quo through the pressures of unconventional thought and actions by members of the team. His pig headed discipline and determination to support people like Millis Jeffries, Percy Hobart, and MGH Baker are examples of where Churchill prized the value of injecting people into the organization that challenged conventional wisdom. This genius of determination guaranteed that new ideas got presented, argued and forcibly discussed upstream of a final decision so that if the decision was presented to Churchill to make, he could trust that timid conventional wisdom had been thoroughly challenged.

Logistics and Supply Chain Operations Are A Team Effort 


Leaders must assure that a diversity of thought is applied to the challenges of the enterprise.  Innovation is born from new solutions to old problems.  A superior leader provides a balance between aggressive risk and conservative wisdom to achieve a balance.

In an innovation conference I attended we learned that in brainstorming sessions a new idea has a life expectancy of about 8 seconds before it is assassinated by “traditional conventional wisdom”.   “We tried that before and it did not work,” is the most used weapon for killing ideas.  Churchill recognized this dynamic and selected men with a history of fighting for the new ideas.  Successful leaders support the “advent guard” of ideas and provide a balance of the conventional in balance, applying new ideas when the conventional fails to produce.

Final Thoughts


Quality leaders never dictate the results; they provide a clear vision and allow the team to work to the vision. 


Next time, we will look at
the second of the 12 key behaviors of Churchill's leadership, "Depend on a Strong and Loyal Support Staff ."

Agree or disagree with Schneider's perspective? What would you add? Let us know your thoughts for publication in the SCDigest newsletter Feedback section, and on the website. Upon request, comments will be posted with the respondent's name or company withheld.


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About the Author
David Schneider is founder and president of David K. Schneider & Company, a supply chain and logistics consulting firm. Prior to that, he was Director of Logistics for Pep Boys Auto and a consultant at Keough.
 

Schneider Says:


A superior leader provides a balance between aggressive risk and conservative wisdom to achieve a balance.


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