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George Reed

George Reed

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, George Reed is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership Studies within the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego.

Lessons From Churchill

We used to say in the Army that when the enemy is inside the wire and you are handing out the last rounds of ammunition, it is no time to shrug and say: "This probably isn't going to work." The crucible of crisis brings out the best in some leaders who inspire in others the will to try in the face of daunting challenges.

The quintessential example is Winston Churchill, another great orator who buoyed the spirit of the British people at a time of immense peril. Let us briefly examine a passage from one of his most famous speeches given on June 4, 1940 to the House of Commons. We must remember that in this speech, Churchill was also addressing the evacuation from Dunkirk and possible invasion of England by Nazi Germany. It was indeed a dark time for the empire:

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, 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.

There is no sugarcoating in that section, yet one can hardly fail to sense the tenacity and pugnacious spirit that struck a deep chord in the people. Churchill was both realistic in his assessments and hopeful. He spoke in collective terms, constantly using the word "we" to reinforce a sense of unity of purpose.

Today is a different time, and the grand rhetoric that Churchill used during World War II is probably not appropriate for dealing with the current financial crisis. President Obama begins his term with a high approval rating and a general sense among the American people that change is warranted. It is a license to be realistic about the challenges that we face and the sacrifices that will have to endure to overcome them.

By George Reed

 |  January 21, 2009; 11:44 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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