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

Churchill Series : Behavior 9 - Always Spoke with Clarity of Purpose

Churchill Clearly Communicated A Compelling And Long Term Vision For Britain

On May 14, 1940, Winston Churchill spoke to the British House of Commons “We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.”

It was the first speech he gave to the House after taking control of the government.  He set a clear statement of policy and of purpose.  He created a compelling long term vision that was cast in a single, clear, simple paragraph: We will fight, wage war, with God by our side, until we achieve victory, no matter how hard or how long it takes.

Churchill was blunt and brutally honest with what it would take - he did not candy any of his statements.

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."

No punches pulled.  Expect nothing but pain.

In the face of fear, when almost 80% of the population of Britain supported settlement with Nazi Germany, Churchill turned the tide of public sentiment. With two clear paragraphs he set the audacious and defiant goal that proved to be true in the end.

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, and we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.”

Clearly spoken, while others have fallen, the British people would not.

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

It was a fight to the finish, and Churchill painted the image that it would be the “odious apparatus of Nazi rule” that would fall first – not the British people.

"These are not dark days; these are great days. The greatest days our country has ever lived." He said in 1941, as the British fought back the Nazi Blitz and the RAF lived “their finest hour”. 


Clarity Builds Certainty.  Certainty Builds Trust. 

Whether he was speaking to the House of Commons, or to the British public, Churchill spoke with Clarity of Purpose.  In his dictation, in his meetings, in his letters, he chose his words carefully to paint the clearest picture of what he wanted and of what he expected.  In those rare times where his instructions were unclear and when the purpose was not clear he would double the effort to define the purpose so that it was clear.

As leaders we must speak clearly.  Our subordinates, our stockholders, our partners, our suppliers, and our customers deserve clear messages that define not only what we are doing but also why we are doing it.  Transparency is an often mentioned and desired quality in management and communication today – and it is sadly missing in so many instances.

How Does Churchill’s Example Apply To Today’s Supply Chain? 

When we issue unclear instruction to our partners, our vendors, our carriers, we open the door for them to lose certainty, to lose trust in what we are telling them.  Clarity is needed in all levels of communications, from the setting of Strategy (the mission and purpose) to the definition of tactical plans and the instructions of execution.  The more unclear the strategy, the mission, the purpose, the plans or the instructions the more likely there will be a failure in a complex operation.

Are you speaking with clarity?  Is the leadership of your company, your partners, your suppliers speaking with clarity?  If not, how is that working for you?

Final Thoughts

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

For the first ten installments of Schneider's Churchill series (including an introduction to the 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:

As leaders we must speak clearly 

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