Friday, 7 June 2013

Lesson #1 in Persistence... Never Give Up!

This week I attended an assessment for a prestigious leadership program. This involved assessing some interesting business case studies and some other exercises. This also happened to be the first job interview I have had in something like 13 years. 

I have had quite an unconventional employment history, which was discussed. As you'd expect I was asked about the various personal and career goals that I set myself during each stage of my career. This included the successes and achievements.... as well as some of the low points. 

With regard to the issue of facing challenges, I think the most important thing is what you do with any adverse experience as and when they arise... and not what the experience does to you.

Personally something that helps me cope with adversity is
 reading about the strength of character that Shackleton, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Viktor Frankel and others demonstrated with their epic struggles. 

The assessment and interview this week has allowed for some contemplation and reflection on my own twisting, winding journey. It's certainly been a long, tiring, uphill road at times... and more than a little rough and bumpy underfoot in places - but at least the scenery is breathtaking and the people who accompany me truly are fantastic.

Most people have to cope with, and make sense of, setbacks at some point and I thought I'd make the theme of this weeks post on the topic of never giving up! We may need to adapt or have a slight detour all of which is to be expected... just so long as you don't quit!

A Lesson in Persistence 
In the early 1930s Winston Churchill's career had descended into; 

“A quagmire from which there seemed to be no rescue.” 

The reasons for this assessment included;
  • He had been widely blamed for Britains financial dislocation in the depression - having put Britain back on the gold standard (whatever that means?!) as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. 
  • He’d broken with his party , isolating himself from the mainstream - due to his opposition to Indian self rule 
  • He’d been tagged as the architect of the WW1 tragedy at Gallipoli - which cost 213,980 British casualties for little gain (even though the Dardanelles Commission cleared him of blame, he remained tainted by the disaster). 
  • The 1929 stock market crash - cost Churchill a considerable fortune.
Down... but Not Out?
To top it all off, in December
 1931, he was hit by a car in New York. The accident put him in hospital, followed by a long recovery and severe depression.

The author William Manchester captures Churchills position in 1932, where he details a discussion that Lady Astor had with Joseph Stalin on the political landscape in Britain;

“What about Churchill?” Asked Stalin.
“Churchill? Oh he's finished.” She answered

Beaten Up... But Still Standing!
Someone must have forgotten to send that particular memo to Churchill!

Eight years later on June 4th 1940, Chuchill stood in front of parliament as PM while Hilter’s Panzer divisions swept across Europe.

Poland: gone. Belgium: Gone. Holland: gone. Noway: gone. Denmark: gone. France: collapsing. Britain: reeling from the rout leading up to the evacuation from Dunkirk. 

A Bloody Nose... or The Knock Out Blow?
Most world leaders, including many in Britain, saw no choice but to cede Eurpoe to the Nazis. Churchills rivals expected Churchill to see no other alternative than a negotiated peace with Hitler and his Nazi henchmen, and they hoped to capitalise on his taking the political fallout for capitulation... 
They were to be disappointed.

The Compromise of Conviction - Zero Tolerance

Clutching his notes, Churchill glowered out across the House of Commons and issued his famous words, 

“We shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in Gods good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the old"

Churchill's persistence gave voice to Britain's resolve.

Today's Lesson

In 1941, during England's sternest days, Churchill returned to his old school Harrow (where, by the way, he’d received embarrassingly low scores), to give a commencement address. 

“This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

I don't know about you but I sure am glad that examples like this exist to help you to both put any challenges and set backs into perspective... and to show how things can be turned around.

Persistence is one thing... Stubbornness is another
In a work and organisational culture context, as I continue to explore and develop a number of ideas, I find it useful to add the advice from people like Jim Collins who puts this into a business context for us.

For example, to never give in on something that you passionately believe in is one thing, but what's the difference between persistence and being stubborn? Given the pace of change, how do you decide when to make any changes? and what areas you should be adapting? I like Collins' advice on this issue; 
  • Be willing to change tactics... but never give up your core purpose. 
  • Be willing to kill failed business ideas, even to shutter big operations you’ve been in for a long time... (Kimberely Clarke was a failing paper company) but never give up on the idea of building a great organisation. 
  • Be willing to evolve into an entirely different portfolio of activities, even to the point of zero overlap with what you do today (Nokia started out in paper mills)... but never give up on the principles that define your culture. 
  • Be willing to embrace the inevitability of creative destruction... but never give up on the discipline to create your own future. 
  • Be willing to form alliances with former adversaries, to accept necessary compromise... but never-ever give up on your core values.     
The path out of darkness begins with those exasperatingly persistent individuals who are constitutionally incapable of capitulation. Its one thing to suffer a staggering defeat – as will likely happen to every enduring business and social enterprise at some point in its history – its quite another to give up on the values and asperations that make the protracted struggle worthwhile. 

Failure is not so much a physical state as a state of mind; success is falling down, and getting up one more time, withoutend... Just ask another bulldog, James J Braddock, aka "The Bulldog of Bergen" about that! 

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