There are many personality traits that describe effective leaders: enthusiasm, self-confidence, assertiveness, extroversion,
sense of humour, emotional stability, warmth, high tolerance to frustration and trustworthiness (Dubrin et al, 2006). Other characteristics, which illustrate generalist leadership abilities, are vision;
ambition, good communication, collaboration, co-operation, encouragement, development and the two that are probably the best
fit are influence and engagement. It is difficult for leaders to possess all of these traits, however superior leaders
will encompass at least half of these qualities.
Winston Churchill maintained many of these leadership qualities especially vision, encouragement, good communication,
influence and engagement throughout his time as Prime Minister of Britain. One
of his weaknesses however, was that he sometimes got to involved in detail and need to look at the bigger picture. He was also known to change his strategy on a regular basis, much to the frustration of his colleagues.
What leadership traits did Churchill demonstrate?
From researching the various leadership theories you would describe Winston Churchill as being a charismatic / transformational
According to Dubrin et al. these types of leaders communicate their vision in an expressive manner. His strong communication
skills were called upon during the time of crisis in World War II. He was required
to inspire people and this he did. Churchill was a man of his people; his inspiring
speeches encouraged the British people to be courageous and hopeful in a time of despair. One of his famous quotes was “Never,
never, never give up”. Churchill was a visionary who brought about major
According to Dubrin, Daglish & Miller (2006), vision is the ability to imagine diverse and enhanced conditions
and ways in which to achieve them.
People need to believe in this vision in order to make it effective. Churchill’s
vision was of self-preservation and the preservation of free governments and Western civilizations against ever advancing
sources of authority and dictatorship. Churchill did not merely hate tyranny;
he despised it (Keegan, 2007). In the time when Hitler was a force in Nazi Germany
and ready to invade Britain, Churchill stood out as the one man the nation could place its trust in.
Trust forms a major part in being a charismatic leader, without trust
you don’t have people who are willing to carry out one’s own vision. This
was a necessity for Winston Churchill as Nazi Germany was about to invade Britain. If
his people didn’t believe in him and trust his objectives on how to best defend their country there is no way that Britain
would have defeated the Hitler regime. His style of leadership was decisive and
bold, he knew what we wanted to achieve and brought about ways in which to fulfil his goals.
By making an impressive appearance, Churchill was able to enhance his charismatic traits. His refined appearance of bow ties, tall hats and cigars became a trademark so to speak. This portrayed a charismatic image to those around him and gave him credibility. Many believe that charisma is a behaviour that can be learnt and isn’t a characteristic that someone
is born with (BBC, 2007). Hitler for instance had many tactics to acquire charisma
to get people to believe he was super-human. Churchill used props like cigars,
hats and bow ties that distinguished him.
Theory of Charismatic Leadership
Robert House (1977) came up with a theory on Charismatic leadership of which there were nine effects.
members trust in the correctness of the leader’s beliefs
of group members beliefs to those of the leader
acceptance of the leader
for the leader
obedience of the leader
with and emulation of the leader
involvement of the group members or constituents in the mission
goals of group members
on the part of the group members that the will be able to accomplish, or contribute to, the accomplishment of the mission.
analysing the nine theories and it can be observed that Churchill exuded many of these characteristics during his reign in
World War II and following his re-election in 1951.
his resignation in 1955 due to ill health Churchill was still portrayed as being an influential leader. Hitler on the other hand who was in charge of Nazi Germany at the same time as Churchill’s rein could
also be described as being a charismatic leader, but his characteristics are clearly different to that of Churchill. Hitler could be categorised as a personalised charismatic as he was a dictator who
used his power to benefit his own interest.
Roberts (2003), stated that Churchill established that leaders did not
necessarily need charisma or dictatorial powers to inspire others, when people met him they felt they could achieve anything
and therefore genuine inspiration beats artificially created charisma.
of Churchill and Leadership
legacy still lives on with many leaders drawing from his key leadership principles to not only fight today’s war on
terror, but to also support business leaders in this rapidly changing world. Churchill’s
speeches have been an inspiration to current world leaders, who have reflected on they way Churchill conducted himself during
periods of political unrest in the world (Longstaffe, 2005).
Strong communication is an important factor during a crisis and this is
one thing Churchill engaged in during World War II. Change is usually inevitable
and people often resist it, hence communication plays a key role in assisting to make this a positive within an organization. An example Longstaffe (2005) presents to compare Churchill’s principle to a
business scenario is to view a potential crisis, where profits are being eroded, downsizing is required, the team is unmotivated
and shareholders are despondent. Churchill would merely explain the current realities,
then inspire the team by providing them with a vision so they can see the bigger picture, offer advice on how to achieve the
goal and motivate them into achieving this. Churchill excelled at being able
to adopt a vision and inspire people to embrace change. His words of encouragement
had to reflect his behaviour, as people follow behaviour more than words. Churchill’s
determination and passion helped communicate his vision and inspire those he lead. Churchill’s leadership principles
are timeless and businesses and leaders now and in the future should draw upon them to help achieve success.
Winston Churchill exemplified key leadership skills during his reign as
the Prime Minister of Britain during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Through
the study of leadership theories it can ascertained Winston Churchill portrayed a number of characteristics, traits and behaviours
of a charismatic / transformational leader. His charismatic leadership traits
enabled him to adopt a vision and concentrate on the bigger picture, which enabled him to claim victory for his nation. Churchill was able to perform his duties democratically and not as a totalitarian
dictator. To be an exceptional leader one must have strong communication skills. When much of Britain was in despair, he excelled and through his inspirational speeches,
encouraged people to have faith in him. By using simple, but precise language he was able to deliver effective speeches to
his nation that all could understand, thus the people of Britain could identify with him and trust his vision. This enabled
him to achieve the goals of the country and lead a democratic nation to victory over Nazi Germany. Much can be learnt from his strong communication skills, innovation and trustworthiness that made him one
of the great leaders in history. He was and still is a true inspiration to others
and his principles are still relevant today in our uncertain climate as they were more than 60 years ago. As Churchill said “History will be kind to me as I intend to write it”.