Christmas Eve, at the White House, 1941
As the holiday season nears its apex, like you, my thoughts have been drawn to deeper things–to my family and friends, to reflections on the past year and the new one just around the corner, to my faith and my blessings.
I have also spent some time thinking of “Christmases long, long ago,” as the carol says. I have recently had the privilege of studying about Winston Churchill’s life and quite by coincidence also came upon a quick Christmas read entitled, In the Dark Streets Shineth. In all my reading and pondering, I have not only been struck by Churchill’s leadership, bravery, and doggedness, but most especially by the verity of the power of one person to make a difference, to even change the whole course of human history.
Churchill became Britain’s Prime Minister on the very day that Hitler invaded France, and his tenure ended just as the war was ending. It was as though he was prepared for that very moment of history, that critical period when the world was on the brink, as he said, of either “the broad, sunlit uplands” or “a new Dark Age.” All that stood between the end of civilization and freedom as we know it, was the wide English channel, the vision of this remarkable man, and the people he inspired to stand their ground.
In the darkest days of the war, Churchill’s confidence and determination were undeterred. By anything. He had a vision of what Britain had to accomplish, he had a vision of what it would mean to the world if they failed, and he had a vision of the absolute certainty of victory.
In his maiden speech, as the new Prime Minister, he went to the House of Commons and said: “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.”
Nearly three weeks later he was back before Parliament. “We shall not flag or fail,” he vowed. “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, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, 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.”
Churchill was able to motivate his country, the United States, and the entire free world because he had a vision.
Each of us who are leaders–in business, in families, in communities–have the same opportunity. We each have our own struggles, our own battles, our own defining moments. We all have our own dark streets to light. And though the course of human history may not rest upon us, there is still no limit to the power and good that one person with vision can make in his own “little world.” What is required then, is vision–to see victory despite the cost and the odds, and to lift and inspire those around us with the confidence and power of that vision.
As we look around us, at the economy, at the uncertainty of the markets, at the persistent recessionary trends, and the general gloom that seems to hang over many business endeavors, the darkness could be overwhelming. It may seem like there is very little standing between us and our deepest fears. But leaders with vision know that it is in these moments, that real vision shines the brightest.
At the height of World War II, Winston Churchill said to the people of England: “To every man there comes … that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.”
I have been inspired by these words. I hope they will do the same for you. That rather than surrendering to doubt and pessimism and fear, that you will see the bright vision of what you can accomplish, what you and your teams can accomplish, when you “fight” to reach your intended destination and absolutely, unequivocally, steadfastly refuse to surrender for anything less.
I’m interested in your thoughts.