Recovering from mistakes: how Churchill did it

In 1915, long before he was a rock star, young Winston Churchill was kicked out of the Cabinet for his role in an ill-fated plan to knock Turkey out of the Great War. He was alone and reviled. “I thought he would die of grief,” said his wife, Clementine. But then Churchill found a new hobby: painting.

As a painter, Churchill was both gifted and prolific. According to biographer Paul Johnson, the statesman used his relationship with art to reconnect with himself. This led to a sense of rejuvenation, enlistment in the Army, and ultimately, a return to politics.

Writing about this bit of Churchill’s bio at  HarvardBusiness.orgJohn Baldoni offers some takeaways:

The Churchill of this period teaches us that we can recover from our mistakes if we do two things: one, recharge; two, act. The latter is familiar to any executive but action after adversity should be preceded by a period of reflection as well as rejuvenation. Here are three ways to make this happen.

Reflect. Take a step back, consider what happened, and examine the situation from all angles. Discuss with colleagues what went right as well as wrong. Assess your performance and consider what you might have done differently. Now that you know the outcome, use what you know to prepare for the future.

Recharge. Now, put the failure aside and find ways to reconnect with yourself. It may be through a regime of fitness or by spending more time with friends and family. Keep yourself occupied; do not dwell on yourself. Churchill painted. What might you do? Find something to reconnect your mind with your spirit. You may have lost a battle, but you did not lose your life. Keep thinking positively.

(Re)Act. You must do something. If you are in the same job, put lessons learned from failure into place. Debrief your team. If you are in a new job, then find ways to leverage those bitter lessons in your new position. Know that you are a different person, in many ways a stronger one for having withstood the pressures of defeat. Channel your energies into your work, but keep in tune with yourself and people close to you.”

Today many are reeling from sudden and extreme changes in the business climate. Most I talk to agree that this is not just a bottom in a rolling economic cycle. It seems the perfect time to reflect, recharge, and (re)act.
The Tower of Katoubia Mosque, by Sir Winston Churchill

The images of Churchill at the easel and of the painting above were lifted from a good article called Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler Paintings: The Art of War at painter Simon Brushfield’s site.

I originally posted this article on Here it is Tomorrow Again, a blog I published between 2009 and 2011.

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