Churchill Qualities: Leadership, Judgment, Humanity

Churchill Qualities: Leadership, Judgment, Humanity


Writ­ten for a col­league who asked var­i­ous con­trib­u­tors for 300 words on the qual­i­ties of Win­ston Churchill they most admire.


Few great lead­ers are also great writ­ers; none who were both com­pare with Win­ston Churchill. In 1940 he saved civ­i­liza­tion by keep­ing Britain in the fight until those “who hith­er­to had been half blind were half ready.” His his­tor­i­cal and bio­graph­i­cal elo­quence won a Nobel Prize. Unique­ly for a politi­cian, he thought and wrote deeply about the nature of man. He hat­ed and tried to pre­vent war. He fought to pre­serve con­sti­tu­tion­al liberty.


Labor­ing forty years in the vine­yard of his words, I was struck by his judg­ment. An emi­nent his­to­ri­an recent­ly wrote me: “The more I learn about him, the more I think what good judg­ment he had, espe­cial­ly in the 1920s.” The 1920s? Yes. Two decades before his finest hour, Churchill helped ensure Irish inde­pen­dence, made some sense of the Mid­dle East, set­tled war debts, took both sides in the Gen­er­al Strike, and wrote tax-cut­ting budgets.

True, he some­times judged wrong. Yet as William Man­ches­ter wrote, “he always had sec­ond and third thoughts, and they usu­al­ly improved as he went along. It was part of his pat­tern of response to any polit­i­cal issue that, while his ear­ly reac­tions were often emo­tion­al, and even unwor­thy of him, they were usu­al­ly suc­ceed­ed by rea­son and generosity.”

Sir Mar­tin Gilbert, his chief biog­ra­ph­er, who knew more about him than any­one, said: “I nev­er felt that he was going to spring an unpleas­ant sur­prise on me. I might find that he was adopt­ing views with which I dis­agreed. But I always knew that there would be noth­ing to cause me to think: ‘How shock­ing, how appalling.’”


With­al Churchill car­ried with him a joy­ous human­i­ty. Asked what he admired most in him, Mar­shal Tito, a most per­cep­tive man, instant­ly replied: “His human­i­ty. He is so human.” I cer­tain­ly agree on at least one thing with Mar­shal Tito.

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