True leadership

40 or so years ago, I remember asking my Dad about how he felt during the darkest days of the Second World War. I was 16, and learning about the war at school.

In 1940, after its allies has been routed in mainland Europe, after Dunkirk, with Britain facing the enemy seemingly alone, and everyone expecting an imminent invasion, defeat must have felt real and possible. Maybe probable.

My father would have been 16 years old at the time.

“Did you ever think you’d lose the war Dad?” I asked him.

“No, we never thought that,” I remember him telling me. “Never.”

“Why not; things looked so hopeless?” I replied.

“Because Winston Churchill told us we would win,” my Dad said. “He never lied to us. He told it how it was. We knew it was going to be tough.

“He said he could offer us nothing but blood, sweat, toil and tears. But that we would never surrender, and we would prevail in the end.

“He always inspired us. We believed him. We would win, one day.”

By all accounts, Winston Churchill had his faults. He was a human, after all. But when it mattered, at a critical time, he proved to be more than up to the task.

I was just a baby when Churchill passed away, so I have no recollection of him. Or of JFK, or FDR. But I’ve witnessed many leaders during my life – Presidents, Prime Ministers, business leaders, community leaders, religious leaders, and all the rest.

There have been some terrible ones, and some inspiring ones. Some successful ones, and others who’ve not been able to get much done. Some have caused destruction and anguish, while others have built things up and made great changes. Some have left the scene having served brilliantly, having made the world a better place, while others have been cast out in shame.

Leadership is not easy. While it can be something pretty much anyone can learn to be better at, there’s no doubt it comes easier to some than others. Not everyone wants to be in the limelight. Some are perfectly happy being the lieutenant or the willing soldier. To be led.

The Winston Churchill memory reminds us all that words from leaders matter. When you are in a position of authority, people will look to you for guidance.

First of all, be honest. Tell it like it is. Don’t hide the truth. If it’s going to be tough, let them know, but have a plan on how to get out of it, how to prevail in the end.

All leaders are tested. There will be tough times. 2020 has provided quite a few of them for most leaders around the world, in business, in the community, in politics.

Some have risen to the challenge. Looked facts in the face. Told the truth. Implored everyone to act, have faith. We are all in this together. If we do the right things, we can prevail and come through it. Churchill style.

Looking around the world during this year of global pandemic, we have seen plenty of examples of the opposite, too.

Some leaders have tried to obfuscate, lie and hide the truth. They have been found out.

Skills of effective leaders

There are many skills and attributes of highly effective leaders, including:

  • high integrity
  • empathy
  • great communicator
  • emotionally intelligent
  • self-aware
  • visionary
  • courageous
  • charisma

So today, let me reiterate that: truth matters; being good, matters; character matters.

We may have different opinions, but let’s not debate the facts.

Truth. Let’s face our problems head on. Then we can debate the best solutions. And perhaps, we can solve them.

That’s true leadership.


Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

About the author

Charlie has spent more than 20 years in Perth’s tech and startup sector, firstly as a founder himself, through to exit, and more recently as a writer, advisor and investor. Originally from the UK, Charlie worked in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999 he set up online real estate business, running it for 10 years before selling to REIWA, whereupon Charlie ran In 2013, he moved to Business News to lead their digital transformation as CEO, and then worked for the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program, funding pre-revenue startups and innovative businesses. He now works in an advisory capacity for multiple tech and other businesses, is managing editor of Startup News and co-host of the Startup West podcast. He also writes a column for Business News on startups. Charlie sits on the advisory boards of WA Leaders, TEDxPerth, WAITTA, the Perth Symphony Orchestra, and the full board of Rise Network.

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