Expert Insight: Churchill Leadership Series
By David Schneider
Date: April 7, 2010

Churchill Series : Behavior 4 - Churchill Kept An Even Disposition

Churchill's Creative Use of Anger Helped Result In Bold Actions And Created Massive Outcomes

One of Winston Churchill's goals was to maintain an even disposition. A constant challenge, he worked to maintain an upbeat attitude and restrict his anger.  While much has been written about Churchill's anger it is clear that he understood that operating out of anger could be debilitating for what he was empowered to do.

Churchill Couldn't Always Control His Temper

“A man is about as big as the things that make him angry,” is an often cited Churchill quote.  It is important to note that Churchill was angry – at Hitler and the Nazi war machine – and how that object of his anger was large, making Churchill a “big” man following the logic of his quote.  He was also angry and concerned about the communism of Soviet Russia and continued to warn the world of the coming dangers in a clear way – channeling the anger into the image of forcefulness in his writings and his oratory.

It was so clear to Churchill to avoid anger that he actually commented about it many times, "Anger is a waste of energy. Steam, which is used to blow off a safety valve, would be better used to drive the engine." 

But was Churchill always on an “even keel”?  No, he was human.  There are countless examples in history where Churchill would become angry, both through frustration and through discovery of passivity or inept performance. His personal staff was often exposed to the immediate heat of his anger and frustration; he would sometimes become brusque, would swear and lose his temper in magnificent ways.  In those instances - after the flash he would be quick to apologize for his intolerable behavior.  

He More Often Demonstrated "Positive Joy"

Churchill more often demonstrated positive joy.  He would smile, joke and dazzle his staff with charm and whimsy.  He owned a power of the English language that few could match, and would recite poems, prose, or tell jokes that would not only break the ice, but brake the slide of others' attitudes.  He worked hard in every relationship that he made to be more positive, to always tip the balance to the side of joy.

Churchill's acknowledgment of his anger driven missteps and the act of asking for forgiveness demonstrated to all of his team that he was human, and he also understood how his anger or emotion could affect his ability to lead.  Because of his efforts to always deposit more then he withdrew in these “emotional accounts”, people would forgive him of his anger.

In his writings and in his messages, Churchill was always frank and direct to the point.  His wartime messages would often be on a memo sheet entitled “Acton to be taken TODAY.”  In all of his writing, Churchill would work hard to remove the hint of anger from his written correspondence to any member of his team.  He worked to control his anger and focus that anger on the right persons, Hitler and the Nazi war machine.

How Does a Supply Chain Leader Apply The Behavior of Even Disposition?

First, being balanced does not mean to be inhuman and not show emotion.  Emotion is a true human expression and communicates volumes to your people.  Always place more effort into being positive – maintain a sense of humor.  Praise, attention, whimsy, self-depreciation – all work to add love and humility into the relationship.  Avoid sarcastic remarks or jokes; they create confusion and animosity.  Understand that anger directed at events and outcomes, as long as the anger is not directed at a specific person, can and will be forgiven by your staff.  But too much of a display of anger (not disappointment, but true anger) will wear down the troops.  If you do lose your cool, apologize to the folks who saw it, apologize for the “intolerable behavior”.

Second, anger directed at the right object will create an incredible focus.  Listen to Churchill’s speeches about the Nazi leadership and you know that he is angry – as was the British people.  The creative use of anger at the situation can rally the troops behind bold actions to create massive outcomes.  Be mad at the outcome that has gone wrong, and channel that energy into the effort of innovation and correction.  The more effective you are in “translation” of anger into action the more you will see the people around you learn that skill.

Final Thoughts

Next time, we will look at the fifth of the 12 key behaviors of Churchill's leadership,

"No defeat in his heart."

For the first five installments of Schneider's Churchill series, please visit the main Supply Chain Digest Website at under "Blogs."

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:

The more effective you are in “translation” of anger into action the more you will see the people around you learn that skill.

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