It was ANZAC day on Saturday, April 25th. You may have seen quite a few references in the media to the 1915, World War 1 infamous battle at Gallipoli . Thousands and thousands soldiers perished fighting for the British Army as they landed on the shores of Gallipoli, if they didn’t drown first. It was a military disaster, the naval attack failed. The man who was made scapegoat, fairly or unfairly, was the brainchild and leader of the military attack, Winston Churchill. However, the world remembers Churchill for his achievements in leading Britain and the allies to victory in World War 2. And with good reason.
After the failed attack, Churchill was demoted to a minor cabinet post. What was his response? He resigned from government, and headed to the front line in France as in infantry officer. He returned to government in 1917 after many a near brush with death. He was jeered for years by the opposition, but when taking his post as Prime Minister in 1940 with the nation once again embroiled in war, he wrote “All my past has been in preparation for this hour and for this trial”.
What do Churchill’s war stories have to do with your career?
Everything!! It’s all relevant as it is simply about learning from failures, accepting them as part of your journey and using the lessons learnt to improve and develop for the future. And it is about belief.
In my last article of this series on leadership, I said that it was my personal view that a good leader would be very aware of his/her own belief systems. This is a trait in highly self-aware leaders, a trait of such importance to me I cannot understate it. What does it mean?
Again, to remind you, beliefs are unchecked assumptions, and can be positive and negative. Many of them are inherited from your family, teachers, bosses, peers, colleagues, and media scaremongering and so forth. They can guide our behaviour in ways that don’t serve us well at all. The truly aware leader will check for evidence of his/her assumptions and ensure that there is truth to them. This leader will bring the blind spots into view.
The Power of your Beliefs
We all have debilitating beliefs bubbling under our consciousness, inhibiting our progress. You won’t be any different. If you feel you don’t have any, rest assured it’s simply because you are not aware of them. They’re your blind spots. Modifying a negative belief into a positive one is a very effective leadership trait. It’s very difficult to do alone, which is why so many of today’s successful entrepreneurs and business leaders engage professional coaches. It’s hard to see the picture when you’re in the frame.
Churchill modified a debilitating negative belief. In 1915 he confided in a friend, “I am the victim of a political intrigue, I am finished”.
Who could blame his for thinking that? Not only did he have to contend with the impact of his naval military decisions and their devastating outcomes, he had everyone telling him it was his fault too. I’ve been more despondent after a sales call went badly…….
But he didn’t wallow in it for long. He changed his belief and he persevered. He learnt from his failure and he went way beyond redemption as a result. That is effective leadership.
Remember, if your decisions and actions have an influence over others, you are leading them. Leadership starts with you. Lead yourself first, accept that you will fail and accept that those you lead will fail too. Give yourself and those you lead space to learn from mistakes made. This is where real learning and development occurs. If you’re afraid to make mistakes you will be paralysed by fear and forced into stale inaction. You’ll create a claustrophobic environment and choke the life out of your team and business.
I made a mistake recently in how I facilitated a team development programme for the executive team of a prominent London firm. I actually made the mistake in the build up to it when contracting. I should have sought greater clarity on the role and presence of the team leader during the session. By dint of my mistake, the leader’s dominance was prevalent when it shouldn’t have been. The team turned to the leader for answers at a critical stage, instead of being free to make their own suggestions. I reflected on it, understood why it happened and why it won’t happen again.
No one is suggesting to be careless and error strewn deliberately – just be willing to apply the 80-20 rule, make a call, move on, review, learn and apply your learnings next time. Like every post in the Leadership Series, it comes down to self-awareness.