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Career lessons from Winston Churchill
Jan 27, 2015

Career lessons from Winston Churchill

Success is not final, failure is not fatal:it is the courage to continue that counts.

- Winston Churchill

This last weekend saw the 5oth anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century - the man who was Prime Minister twice, and most importantly during World War II, showing great resilience, purpose and strength of character.  He came to be a symbol of steadiness and strength for the population, while enjoying a few eccentricities which endeared him to a nation while PM and long after.  One wonders with the advent of social media would those eccentricities be tolerated today!

Churchill was a prolific writer, both of his personal memoirs and history.  He once famously said 'History will be kind to me for I intend to write it'.  He was also a great orator and his stirring speeches inspired a nation, and the world and are still used today as examples of great speeches.

I want to share with you some of my favourite Winston Churchill quotes and how you can apply them to your career.

Success comes from going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm

I use the word failure here in the generic sense, and also in the sense of how we perceive ourselves.  There will be many times we feel discouraged and disappointed with ourselves and consequently feel like a failure.  It is how we deal with that which determines whether or not we succeed.  I have written about this in more detail previously.

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference

How you approach your career, your life and even relationships can impact the result.  Accentuating the positive and having the right attitude, even in difficult circumstances is important to your success.  If you are holding a leadership position, or aspire to one, your attitude is all the more important because those you lead will take their cues from you. If you have a negative outlook, whether temporary or permanent, this will affect your team, and therefore your results.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen

Sometimes, the most courageous thing you can do is to take onboard constructive or negative feedback and not argue the toss about whether it is right or wrong.  Effective listening when someone is speaking is hard - our natural instinct is to fight back when we feel threatened and being told you have done something wrong or that your performance is not up to scratch is perceived as a threat by our brains which goes into fight or flight mode.  Learn to quiet those responses and listen to what is being said.  Even if you don't think it is right, deal with the perception.

Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential

Keep at it - your career is a marathon not a sprint.  Applying yourself consistently to your work and setting goals on a regular basis will get you further than just being clever.

Criticism may not be agreeable but it is necessary.  It fulfils the same function as pain in the body.  It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things

Similar to the quote above, we will never improve without honest discussions about what we can improve.  Developing a growth mindset - that is, knowing that our intelligence and skills are not set in stone but can be improved - means that every bit of feedback, from colleagues, supervisors and clients, will make us better at what we do.

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Philanthropy is a good thing, and I have written before about the benefits of gratitude.  But think about this - when you reach a point in your career when you can mentor someone junior to you, do it.  Mentoring brings great rewards not just to the mentee but for the mentor as well.  There is something intrinsically satisfying seeing someone you have mentored succeed and develop in their own career.

A lie gets half way around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on

Stay out of office politics as much as possible and don't involve yourself in gossip about other people.

Difficulties mastered are opportunities won

Often our supervisors take the path of least resistance, delegating work to the person they know can do it, a 'safe pair of hands'.  Sometimes we are reluctant to take on new challenges for fear of making a mistake.  This will cause stagnation, and ultimately boredom.  Ask for challenging work if you have mastered a particular task or work type.  Challenge yourself and you will be surprised at the opportunities this will bring.

And finally, I will leave you with my favourite Winston Churchill quote

Every day you may make progress.  Every step may be fruitful.  Yet there will stretch out before you  an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path.  You know you will never get to the end of the journey.  But this, far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.