Inspect, not expect – a vital leadership lesson

I have been reading William Manchester and Paul Reid’s book ‘Defender of the Realm’ – the final book in the ‘Last Lion’ trilogy biography of Winston Churchill. It is an exhaustively researched and detailed account of Churchill’s life in World War Two. When Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 he was 65 years old and during the next 5 years of leading the country in war suffered at least 3 heart attacks or minor strokes. He also developed pneumonia twice. Yet he emerged from his exertions in 1945 70 years old, victorious, lived another 20 years and became known as arguably the greatest ever Englishman!

However, the point of this blog article is to highlight the lessons learnt from Churchill in this book about one of the aspects of his personal leadership – what his grand-daughter Celia Sandys called in her book ‘We Shall Not Fail’, Churchill’s ability to ‘Touch the troops’.
This concept of ‘touch the troops‘ comes alive in the narrative of Churchill’s relentless pursuit of improvements and action, and by gaining first hand knowledge by personally visiting all aspects of the vast war machine he was responsible for. The list forms an excellent set of actionable steps all leaders can undertake to develop, maintain and improve the morale of their organisations:
  • Tour the whole organisation to get a personal and first hand account of the daily operations.
  • Do not always rely on reports from subordinates – inspect rather than expect.
  • Build morale by having fun occasionally and spreading a sense of optimism.
  • Listen to valid complaints and suggestions – process them and take action as required.
  • Find ways to improve the work environment.
  • Seek out excessive waste and bureaucracy – demand initiative and potential solutions.
  • Lunch with colleagues to get a relaxed sense of their work and problems.
  • Remember leaders have no office hours – works flows seamlessly into their lives.
  • Make the creation of good morale a daily task – impress upon the team the need to be optimistic.
  • Personally share the risks and hardships.
  • Develop an aura of confidence – trust, inspiration, charisma.
  • Always look to put bad news into perspective.

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