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Leadership During a Pandemic - Winston Churchill Approach


I was driving to work this summer (2020) on a Wednesday morning thinking about the upcoming year and possible season (it hadn’t been cancelled yet). Our conference had put out a shortened schedule for the fall and we were all determined to play if possible. I knew the chances were slim, but no one really knew what was going to happen in the upcoming semester, let alone the next day. A few of our leaders were in town working out and I had called an in-person meeting – socially-distanced of course – for early Thursday morning to discuss our possible season and what was lying ahead.


On my drive into work that Wednesday morning, I was listening to a podcast about leadership while pondering what to tell our staff, leaders, and team in the upcoming days and weeks. As I was daydreaming about what to tell everyone, something caught my ear on the podcast. The person being interviewed was talking about leadership during difficult times and went into a quick history lesson about how Winston Churchill led Britain during the beginning of World War II.


The interviewee claimed that Churchill used three deliberate messages to rally his country and his troops during a time of uncertainty. I do not remember the exact way the interviewee explained the three messages, but these are the messages as I remember them:


1. THE HARD TRUTH

2. THIS TOO SHALL PASS

3. WE CAN DO THIS


“The Hard Truth” – A world war was eminent and they were going to lose a lot of lives and freedoms over the next few years and that everyone would have to sacrifice. He laid out the cold, hard facts of what “could” happen and was honest about it.


“This Too Shall Pass” – A message to his people that, eventually they would get back to normal as long as they continued to fight and press on (KBO was Churchill’s acronym for Keep Buggering On). Although it was bleak and ugly in the present moment, eventually the war would be over and with enough dedication and determination they would be back to their normal lives.


“We Can Do This” – A message to his people that they were united and they had a unique skill set to conquer the obstacle in front of them – because of their innate fortitude. A powerful and inspirational message that brought the country together to fight and preserver to victory. I love this quote from Churchill about his country’s determination:


“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 beaches, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”


As I listened to this I couldn’t help but think about the correlations between our current situation and the situation Churchill found himself in during World War II. I do understand that coaching football IS NOT WAR, but there are similarities that we can learn from. The adversity faced by military leaders created legendary acts of courage and leadership that can be used in other settings. Churchill’s leadership was one of the most unifying and inspiring of any leader in human history and lives in the history books forever. I thought it would be the perfect message for how to lead our team during this pandemic.


I decided to use these three deliberate messages with my leaders. We had not seen each other – physically – in months and only had interactions on zoom calls. I needed to have a powerful message. We had had an issue occur within our team and the leadership meeting was called to handle that issue, but I knew this would be a great opportunity to use Churchill’s leadership tactics to unify our leaders and our team. Considering this would be one of my only opportunities to meet in person, I had to make it count.


After we discussed the issue that came up and came to decisions on a few other topics, I went into my Churchill inspired speech. I laid out three similar messages:


1. THE HARD TRUTH