In the darkest days of World War II, families in England huddled around their radios to listen to the inspiring words of Winston Churchill. Britain stood virtually alone against the powerful Luftwaffe that dropped thousands of bombs during the night raids of the Blitz. On June 4, 1940 after the Dunkirk Evacuation, which removed over 338,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers from the threat of the German army, Churchill delivered perhaps his most famous and stirring speech.
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”
These are perhaps the most famous words of his most famous speech. They represent a powerful declaration that provided hope and encouragement during a time of overwhelming fear and hardship.
Leaders today can learn much from Churchill. Many credit him with providing the hope that England could survive in spite of tremendous odds. Churchill appealed to the hearts of the British people. He frequently referred to heroes, both past and present, who represented the values necessary to prevail. He spoke to his listeners as if they were intelligent human beings, and he frankly discussed the dangers. His use of words was inspiring. His craggy, determined voice, his confident presence, direct manner and frequent use of the “V” for victory sign supported his words.
I could discuss many attributes of Churchill’s leadership, but I believe one of his most telling characteristics was his use of powerful declarations—formal announcements of expectations or future conditions.
Yet, it is often the absence of declarations that leaves leaders and their followers adrift. In coaching conversations and professional discussions, I frequently find that leaders do not understand the power of declarations or they are often reluctant to declare their expectations.
Whatever the cause of their reluctance, it is important for leaders and their coaches to assess the need for and the presentation of powerful and meaningful declarations. A few examples of declarations leaders may use today include:
- All of us will work together to meet this challenge.
- We are capable and we will complete this project on time and under budget.
- I expect to see the following behavior when each of you greets a client.
- Our efforts will produce the success we expect to achieve.
However, these statements alone will have no impact. Declarations that have the potential to change the future must include the following:
- They must be lofty but realistic.
- They must be delivered with the right degree of confidence. This includes body, emotion and language.
- They must be accompanied by emotional appeals that capture the spirit.
- Powerful declarations should include specific actions that will lead to the expected outcomes.
- The leader must have both the real and perceived authority to make a declaration. Without that authority, the declaration has no meaning.
Churchill was not blessed with natural speaking ability. He overcame a speech impediment, and he spent many hours working on his “impromptu” speeches. However, he came to be one of the strongest wartime leaders in history.
Like Churchill, leaders today can and must spur their groups and organizations to greater success by accepting the responsibility, and sometimes the risk, of making powerful declarations about what can be.
- Lyn Boyer is an author, coach and presenter on topics related to Affective Leadership. Her recently published book, Connect: Affective Leadership for Effective Results, contains valuable information on methods successful leaders use to make personal connections that change the future. These include use of language, emotional intelligence, leadership presence, trust-building, mental models and lightness. It is now available online in paperback and e-book (Kindle and Nook). Visit her blog at www.lynboyer.net or her company website at www.LeadershipOptions.com.