Sir Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Although he never worked for a corporation, he embodied everything that a Klimber should be.
He was born into an aristocratic family, but his family was by no means rich. He was born premature. He had a lisp all his life. He was raised by his nanny and ignored by his parents. In fact, his dad was an asshole who wrote off Winston as a disappointment early in life. He sucked at school. His life was full of failure … over and over again. But he never let life’s impediments stop him from climbing the social and political ladder. He used it to fuel his ambition.
Starting at the bottom of his country’s political ladder, he leveraged his parents connections, worked his ass off, worked the system and did pretty much whatever he could to reach the top at 10 Downing Street (that’s the White House of England).
Winston Churchill’s ascent to the top of the political ladder, overcoming many challenges along the way, offers many lessons that we Korporate Klimbers can learn from. Over the course of his 90 year life, he not only was a master politician, he accumulated a staggering number of achievements.
According to British historian Paul Johnson’s biography on Wiinston Churchill,
- He spent 55 years as a member of British Parliament
- He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for 9 years
- He took part in 15 battles and was awarded 14 medals
- He was a prominent figure in the first World War and a dominant one in World War II
- He was a journalist and war correspondent
- He was an accomplished historian and writer, publishing almost 10 million words … more than many professional writers in their lifetime
- He was a well known and respected artist who painted over 500 canvases
- He was a Knight of the Order of the Garter, Companion of Honor, Fellow of the Royal Society, a Royal Academician, Elder Brother of the Trinity House, a university Chancellor and a member of the Order of the Merit
- He hunted big game in Africa (it was cool back then OK..)
- He had a large and loving family
- He raised and raced horses
- He won the Nobel Prize
Simply put, this guy crushed it. Every. Single. Day.
In his biography, Paul Johnson offers us five lessons on ambition, leadership and the art of climbing from Winston Churchill’s life.
Lesson One: Always aim high. Look ahead and stay focused
Churchill always set very high goals for himself. He then assessed his shortcomings and worked his ass off to overcome the challenges. As a child, he sucked at school and hated math. But he knew education was important so he overcame his aversion to math to at least get by. He had a speech impediment but he didn’t let it stop him from mastering the English language to become one of the greatest speakers in the 20th century.
His father died at a young age of 45. So he became hell bent on making a name for himself at a young age. And he did this with intense focus.
He sought to be prime minister feeling only he could achieve certain things. In 1940 he aimed not only high but at the highest – to rescue a stricken country in danger of being demoralized, to put it firmly on its feet again, and to carry it to salvation and victory. He did not always meet his elevated targets, but by aiming high he always achieved something worthwhile. – Paul Johnson
Lesson Two: There is no substitute for hard work and persistence
Churchill never backed down from hard work. This is one of the reasons he accomplished so much in his life. He was always doing something.
He worked sixteen hour days and was known for going to sleep at 2 or 3 in the morning. He took jobs that were not ideal if only to get his foot in the door. Then he would excel, get noticed and be promoted.
For example, he wanted to start his career in the military so he applied for the Royal Military College. But he failed the entrance exam … twice. Instead of giving up or even continuing to keep trying, he figured out another way. After failing the exam for infantry, he applied for the cavalry instead because the grade requirements were lower. Then he worked hard to graduate eighth out of a class of 150.
During World War I, as a leader of the British navy, he was blamed for a disastrous failure of Battle of Gallipoli that effectively destroyed his career at the time. He lost his leadership post in the cabinet and had to resign his leadership position in the navy. Instead of giving up, he stayed a member of Parliament waited for his chance.
It finally came when Prime Minster David Lloyd George appointed him to the lowly position of the Minister of Munitions in 1917. He was responsible for making sure that the British troops were well stocked with guns, bullets and weapons to fight the war. It was a position that no one really wanted because the ministry itself was a disorganized, chaotic shitshow. But as soon as he got there, he worked day and night to transform it into an organized, well-oiled machine. He eliminated bureaucratic red-tape and simplified the process so the British soldiers on the ground never ran out of munitions.
Within two years, he was promoted and back in power.
Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential. – Winston Churchill
Lesson Three: Never let failures, mistakes, disasters, accidents, illness, unpopularity, and criticism, get you down
This guy never gave up. No matter what. He failed. He got up and tried again. If that didn’t work, he figured out a different way to attack the problem.
As Johnson points out:
[Churchill’s] power of recuperation, both in physical illness and in psychological responses to abject failure, were astounding… He scrambled to his feet and worked his way back. He had courage … and fortitude. These strengths are inborn but they can also be cultivated, and Churchill worked on them all his life.
Remember how he twice failed to get into the Royal Military Academy. He got what he wanted by figuring out a way to go around this by joining the cavalry. He got his foot in the door, kicked ass and rose to the top.
He wanted to marry women that were way above his league. Two of them rejected his marriage proposal. But he wasn’t deterred. Finally, his third proposal to Clementine Hozier was accepted. They remained faithfully married till the end.
He lost five elections in his life. But he never gave up. He just ran from a different town until he won the next election.
He was kicked out of his leadership position in the navy after the failure of Battle of Gallipoli in WWI where 34 thousand British soldiers died and 78 thousand were wounded. After resigning from his position, he re-enlisted in the Army as a battalion commander. Under his leadership, his battalion became the most active of the British forces by leading 36 assaults into enemy territory in seven short months.
He sums up his philosophy in a speech to students at Harrow School in 1941:
Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy
– Winston Churchill
Lesson Four: Don’t waste time or emotional energy on anger, hate or revenge
Hater’s gonna hate …
In life, you need thick skin. Being sensitive about every time someone said or did something mean is bad for your career.
Holding on to anger and grudges is bad for your health. Bad health leads to bad decisions and therefore bad career choices.
There were a lot of people who did not like Churchill. He was hated. He was back stabbed by members of his own party a few times. He was one of the most laughed at political leaders of his time. But he didn’t let anything stick to him for too long. This is why he outlived many of his opponents. He developed a thick skin.
Churchill wasted an extraordinarily small amount of his time [if any] and emotional energy on the meanness of life: recrimination, shifting blame to others, malice, revenge seeking, dirty tricks, spreading rumors, harboring grudges, waging vendettas. Having fought hard, he washed his hands and went on to the next contest. It is one reason for his success. There is nothing more draining and exhausting than hatred… Nothing gave him more pleasure than to replace enmity with friendship.
– Paul Johnson
Look, as you climb the corporate ladder and become more successful, you will inevitably cause resentment in some people and will become a target for others to bring down. Success never comes by being liked by everyone and by being everyone’s friend. But that doesn’t mean that you need to waste your energy on hating those who hate you.
First. It’s not personal. Those people who have a problem with you are driven by their own insecurities. They’re mostly just projecting their own self-hatred and self disappointment onto you. So, there’s nothing you can do to change it anyway.
Second. If you let it get to you, then you’re letting them win. You’re letting them control how much of your energy and time they get to occupy.
Your continued success will be the big ass symbolic middle finger that the haters will see and that my friends, will give you more satisfaction than anything you can do to change their minds.
Plus, by always being nice – even to the people who are mean to you – you can always go back and ask them for help. You never know when you may need them.
Lesson Five: Have a positive attitude and be an optimist
Life is short. If you’re ambitious it’s because you want the better things that life has to offer.
You’re not just working your ass off to benefit some company that’s going to forget all about you as soon as you leave. At the end of the day, the only reason you’re willing to put up with hard work, sweat, tears and a bunch of bullshit is for a better life.
So go ahead an enjoy it.
[Churchill’s] face could light up in the most extraordinarily attractive way as it became suffused with pleasure at an unexpected and welcome event… Joy was a frequent visitor to Churchill’s psyche, banishing boredom, despair, discomfort, and pain. He liked to share his joy, and give joy. It be never be forgotten that Churchill was happy with people. – Paul Johnson
You work hard. You need to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Doing so will bring you happiness and give you a positive attitude.
No one likes a downer.
People are attracted to working with those who display a genuine positive attitude. The more people who are willing to work with you, for you and to follow you, the more successful you’ll become.