What Would Churchill Do?: Business Advice from the Man Who Saved the World
By Stuart Finlay
Paperback, 134 pages
January 24, 2008
Reviewed by Cynthia MurphySir Winston Churchill was one of the great leaders in world history. Very few people would argue this point. But how do his leadership skills translate to the business world? According to Stuart Finlay, Churchill’s leadership style is still very relevant for modern business leaders. In What Would Churchill Do? Finlay analyzes some key elements of Churchill’s style and applies them to modern business situations.This is an interesting premise. What Would Churchill Do? is part history book, part business book. It focuses more on the history, but that is really the best choice. In many cases, Churchill’s decisions can certainly stand alone as solid leadership examples. Each chapter follows the same format: Finlay portrays an important moment from Churchill’s time as prime minister and then follows with an example from his own business career. Some of the business examples are better than others. Finlay freely admits that his career is not on the same level as Churchill’s. His degree of humility is important because any comparisons to Churchill could easily be perceived as egotistical.Finlay uses Churchill’s own memoirs as his primary source. As a result, many of the examples have an insider’s perspective. One such example involves the diet of the British soldiers during World War II. Churchill was advised to change the military rations to a high energy diet of vegetables and nuts. This would have meant an end to the soldiers’ beloved tea. The committee also advised rationing tea for civilians as well. Churchill went against the advice of the committee in order to preserve morale. Finlay uses this as an example of Churchill’s attention to detail. It sounds like a minor decision, but such minor decisions affected millions. Finlay also points out how Churchill treated both his allies and his commanding officers. Such details are often omitted from histories, but they reveal key elements of Churchill’s character. They also portray Churchill as a human being, rather than a larger-than-life historical figure.
At times, Finlay exudes an undeniable feeling of national pride. Yet, that never takes away from his arguments about Churchill’s leadership. Finlay does not pretend to be an expert on Churchill or business. He is simply an author who has found intriguing parallels between Churchill’s decisions and modern business. In fact, the comparisons put many business decisions in the proper perspective. It would be hard for managers to stress over their daily decisions if they compared them to some of those made by Churchill. Finlay illustrates this with some of his own examples. He realizes that modern business leaders create much of their own stress. In some ways, this could also be seen as a book on stress management. Finlay devotes a chapter to Churchill’s ability to compartmentalize, and several other chapters focus on how he coped with various decisions.
What Would Churchill Do? is not a typical business book. It draws on world history, rather than the usual mix of statistics and case studies. Yet, Stuart Finlay manages to blend history and business smoothly. What Would Churchill Do? is a quick, compelling read. There’s nothing terribly new here, but Finlay presents the information in an interesting format.