What makes a successful leader stand out from someone who suffers defeat? According to John Maxwell’s 15th Irrefutable Law of Leadership it is simply the unwillingness to accept defeat. To put it more positively, leaders find a way for the team to win. Why? Because the alternative to winning is completely unacceptable to them, they push on through to work out what must be done to achieve victory. When they fall down, they simply get back up again and look for another way to move forward.Sir-Winston-Churchill

The life of Winston Churchill illustrates this. While on the one hand he had an intense long-standing battle with depression and negative thoughts, the experience enabled him to develop a remarkable clarity about the Nazi threat. (See post Did Churchill’s Depression Make Him A Great War-time Leader?) It was in 1932 he was practically a lone voice when he warned:

“Do not delude yourselves….. Do not believe that all Germany is asking for is equal status…. They are looking for weapons and when they have them believe me they will ask for the return of lost territories or colonies.”

There was something about the way he had dealt with his own dark side manifesting as depression that enabled Churchill to see with clarity that no amount of negotiation could appease Hitler. (See Who Would You Choose: Chamberlain or Churchill?)

And when it came to the inevitability of war, Churchill was able to articulate the challenges that lay before the British nation that made clear the huge cost that would be required:

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all our strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime. This is our policy. You ask what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory – victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”

At the same time, as someone whose family is from South Asia while having made Britain my home, I have to confess an ambivalent relationship to Churchill and his legacy. While in awe of his leading of the Free World against Tolitariaism I have to wrestle with the fact that as the Japanese advanced in the East he made the decision to divert food supplies to British troops while at the same time sacrificing 3 million Bengalis to starvation and death.His views on the moral superiority of his race also leave a lot to be desired also. But that will have to be for another blog post! The key issue here is Churchill’s tenacity of purpose that was able to unite a nation and provide leadership when devastating defeat was a distinct possibility.

For a leader to see victory, they have to be compelled to rise to the challenge and do everything in their power to achieve victory for their people. In those terms, Maxwell writes:

Leadership is responsible
Losing is unacceptable
Passion is unquenchable
Creativity is essential
Quitting is unthinkable
Commitment is unquestionable
Victory is inevitable

The fuel to develop such an attitude has to be come through the furnace of adversity and hardship. This is why their ego is in check and they can paradoxically combine humility with a driving will and passion to get the job done. (For more on this see How Do I Deal With My Ego?)

By properly handling their ego and refusing to accept defeat, the leader can contribute to the team’s victory by providing:

  1. Unity of vision.
    Churchill was able to unite the nation and the Allies in fighting the Nazi threat. This is the challenge to get people to look past their own personal agendas to the common good. How well are you able to bring about a common shared vision?
  2. Diversity of skills.
    One of the pitfalls of young leaders, especially those with limited experience, is to want and think others should think and behave like you. However, living in an increasingly VUCA world makes valuing and calling on other people’s unique gifts and abilities all the more important. Can you call on and value those diverse skills and personalities, not just expecting people to be like you?
  3. Demanding the very best from others so they too can reach their potential.
    It is not enough just to have the right talent and most skilful individuals, there is also the ability to bring together individuals to work together and give their very best for the good of the team.

I close with the following reflection by John Maxwell:

“The first step in practising the Law of Victory is taking responsibility for the success of the team, department, or organisation you lead. It must become personal. Your commitment must be higher than that of your team members. Your passion must be high. Your dedication must be unquestioned.
Do you currently demonstrate that kind of commitment? If not, you need to examine yourself to determine if it is in you. If you search yourself and are unable to convince yourself to bring about that kind of commitment then one of three things is probably true:

  • You are pursuing the wrong vision.
  • You are in the wrong  organisation.
  • You are not the right leader for the job.
  • You will have to make adjustments accordingly.”

How does the Law of Victory speak to the challenges of your own life?

You may also find the related post and podcast on resilience of benefit. (See here).