In a March 23rd article titled “COVID-19: What Employees Need From Leaders Right Now,” Gallup identified four universal needs followers have of leaders during times of crisis:
Taking office in the midst of war, Winston Churchill stepped into office boldly, reaching out to the public by addressing their core needs and thereby winning their love and support.
With war already taking its toll, people were living in fear, yet Churchill did not withhold information from them. In his frequent addresses, he would state—as clearly as he could—what was happening. In May 1940, he delivered a radio speech to the nation saying, “We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.” In a War Room speech from September 11, 1940, during the worst of the night bombings, Churchill told his people, “Behind these clusters of ships or barges, there stand very large numbers of German troops, awaiting the order to go on board and set out on their…voyage across the seas…No one should blind himself to the fact that a heavy, full-scale invasion of the island is being prepared...” While some cautioned this extreme brand of candor would lead to national panic, Churchill believed his people deserved to know the facts. Their response was to rally behind him, and to trust what he said.
While Churchill did not sugarcoat the reality his country was facing, he offered rational, realistic cause for hope—always stating his belief his people could overcome anything they faced. His September War Room address to the nation ended with these words:
Little does [Hitler] know the spirit of the British nation… What he has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts...which will glow long after all traces of the conflagration he has caused in London have been removed. He has lighted a fire which will burn with a steady and consuming flame until the last vestiges of Nazi tyranny have been burnt out of Europe… It is a message of good cheer to our fighting Forces… they have behind them a people who will not flinch… but we will draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival, and of a victory won not only for ourselves, but for all.
In 1941, Churchill was on his way to Bristol University to award honorary degrees when the city was bombed. Understanding the importance of stability during uncertain times, Churchill decided to go ahead with the ceremony. Professors stood with him on the dais, their clothing beneath their robes wet and sooty from fighting fires throughout the night. People arrived in the audience, filthy from pulling bodies from the rubble, yet all desperately seeking that moment of good in the destruction that surrounded them, and grateful to be a part of something normal.
At the end of the awards ceremony, Churchill gave an impromptu speech, praising the people of Bristol, saying, “Many of those here today have been all night at their posts, and have been under the fire of the enemy… That you should gather in this way is a mark of fortitude… of courage… I see the spirit of an unconquerable people.” Churchill spent an hour driving around the city, documenting the worst of the damage, before boarding his train to return home. Upon boarding, his aides reported he spent long minutes weeping over the devastation he’d witnessed, then immediately began setting plans in motion to ensure the people of Bristol had extra allotments of food provisions to help them through their time of emergency.
We can learn a lot from Churchill. What we’re facing now is unprecedented, and those we lead are looking to us for answers. We’re up for the challenge, though, and we’ll come through this time stronger, more resilient, and confident in our ability to lead our people through anything.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION!
Are you wondering how to meet your employees’ core needs during this time of crisis? Let’s open a discussion, sharing with one another our struggles and triumphs during this time. Post your question or comment below.