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Together we stand


Published: 02/25/2012


I’m a great admirer of Sir Winston Churchill. In the war years with my parents, I listened to his powerful speeches broadcast over the radio. Many of his words are permanently etched in my memory, as well in the record of the history of the Second World War. When Britain alone stood against the enemy he said: “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 never surrender ….”


After the great air battles that beat back the enemy’s aerial assault, he honoured the pilots: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” And in his memorable words to our parliament in Ottawa in December 1941, he said: “When I warned them [the French Government] that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided cabinet: ‘In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken’. Some chicken! Some neck!”


For those who were moved by his words, who admired his wartime leadership, he was positive proof of the Great Man Theory of history. The idea is that, when push comes to shove, the course of history is driven by dynamic individuals who rise up to
lead in times of distress, crisis and need. The capital cities of the world are filled with statues, monuments, streets and squares celebrating the leadership of kings, presidents, prime ministers and generals who are credited with creating the days of power and glory. “Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end,” went the words of a song that became popular in the 1960s.


The question is asked, why can’t we have leaders like we had then, ones that were giants? With thatdeep-seated sense of history, it is no mystery to find so many looking for a new Great Man to appear. The pressure is on political parties, nations,
corporations and institutions to pick star candidates to do the jobs that need to be done, meet the crises, save the nation, the businesses, and stride steadfastly and confidently into the unknown future. No wonder so many candidates for leadership positions feel obliged to try to convince voters or shareholders that they alone can lead them on the road to glory.


Have you noticed that when candidates are selected to lead political parties or to be mayors, their acceptance speeches usually include two themes? First, they pour out gratitude to their family, their friends, the campaign workers, the foot soldiers who worked so hard for their selection as leader. “I could not have done it without you,” they’ll say. Then, almost without taking a breath, they tell everyone what ‘they’ will do. When they take office they’ll fix things, they’ll make changes, they’ll bring prosperity and move the agenda forward. And the people cheer; the job’s done. Sadly there is an inherent contradiction in the performance, in the situation. The people need a leader but the leader needs the people. When a leader is chosen, the work has not even begun.


It was on examining Winston Churchill’s leadership that it became clear that the Great Man Theory of history was flawed. There can be little doubt that Winston Churchill was a great man – a man of vision, courage and stamina. Yet the essence of his leadership was in his ability to rally the British people. In the darkest days, he challenged them to rise to accept hardships and strive for great achievements: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour’.” And thus, in 1945, when peace came, he gave the people the credit for the victory. He said: “I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion’s roar.”


Leaders must be one side of a partner-ship: president and people, CEO and workers, general and soldiers, captain and crew, coach and team. It is to our own peril if we believe we can give responsibility to any one person. It is the source of tragedy and failure, the soil in which egomaniacs and tyrants prosper, and where good leaders find themselves helpless and broken by burdens too great to carry alone.  We must stand together.  


Jim Campbell is an Oakville-based author and writer. Please send your comments to: or via post to 115 George St., Unit 1524, Oakville ON L6J 0A2

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