Winston Churchill: The Lion of Britain

Winston Churchill Quotes

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Sir Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister from 1940-45 and 1951-55. His inspirational wartime speeches are known around the world and his Battle of Britain, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” and, “we shall never surrender” lines are often quoted. He’s never far from the top of any “Great Leaders” Top 10 list, so what led this hugely successful man to say, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”?

Third Time Lucky

Well, having been deemed academically lacking by his father, it was decided that Churchill should pursue a career in the military rather than in law or politics. He was enrolled at Sandhurst as an officer cadet in 1893 after successfully passing the entrance exam on his third attempt – an early indication that failure would not dampen his enthusiasm to succeed.

As a cavalry officer and war reporter, Churchill served in Cuba, Afghanistan, Egypt and South Africa, but his interest in entering the world of politics grew stronger and he devoted himself to reading and studying British political news in a determined effort to overcome his lack of university education.

Daring Do

After a daring escape from a prisoner of war camp in South Africa, Churchill became something of a hero back at home in Britain, helping him to become MP for Oldham in the General Election of 1900.

In his early years as a politician, he was never afraid to disagree with his party leader and standing up for what he believed to be right led to him leaving the Conservative Party and joining the Liberals. His political career was well and truly underway and in 1911, Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty, a role in which he continued to argue strongly for what he believed.

Catastrophic Failure

By 1914, war in Europe was looming and Churchill argued determinedly that Britain must get involved. However, with Churchill at the helm, a string of British naval failures in the first few months of war resulted in heavy losses, not least at Gallipoli, and he was forced to resign from his post – his reputation heavily stained.

This degree of failure would have ended the political career of many, but Churchill doggedly made his way back into office and returned to the Conservative Party, taking the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924, a post once held by his father.

Disaster Strikes Again

Churchill’s decision to restore a currency system that fixed the pound sterling’s value to a set quantity of gold – known as the Gold Standard – led to a collapse in export markets, and a general strike called by The Trades Union Congress brought Britain to a grinding halt. In 1929, Labour won the General Election and the Conservatives, along with Churchill, were out.

The following years became Churchill’s “wilderness years” with Conservative Party leaders largely ignoring him, including his warnings over the gathering strength of Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Walking with Destiny

In 1939, Britain declared war against Germany and Churchill was plucked from exile to resume his role as First Lord of the Admiralty. By 1940, Britain and the Allies were losing the war, leading to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s resignation. Churchill stepped up to the post, also taking responsibility for the war effort as Minister of Defence. In his book, The Second World War, published in six volumes from 1948-53, he wrote, “I felt as though I were walking with destiny and that all my past life had been a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

History shows us that Winston Churchill was indeed the right man for the job in Britain’s hour of need. His skills as an orator inspired an entire nation and raised the morale of a population during times of extreme hardship, and he led Britain to victory in 1945. Churchill’s success as a leader was the result of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm – an enthusiasm for politics that he never lost.


Hillary Clinton: Breaking Barriers

Hillary Clinton Quotes

Hillary Clinton was the First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001 but there have been many more firsts in this famous First Lady’s life that have perhaps been overshadowed by events in her political career.

Born in 1947, Hillary has been known to say that the unusual spelling of her name is down to her mother naming her after mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary. Sir Edmund and Tenzing Norgay made history when they became the first men to scale Mount Everest, but, as this event took place in 1953, it suggests that this was not the case. In fact, it has since been suggested that the Everest-conquering namesake version of events became a family story created by her mother to inspire greatness in her young daughter – and it would appear to have had great effect.

High Aspirations

During her school days, Hillary was greatly inspired by NASA and the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. At around the age of fourteen, she wrote a letter to NASA to ask what she would need to do to become an astronaut – an indication that her mother’s story had indeed inspired her to achieve great things – but the reply she received informed her that women were not accepted on the training program. In high school, Hillary was class vice president in her junior year but lost her battle against two boys for class presidency in her senior year. At the time, one of the boys said to her, “You are really stupid if you think a girl can be elected president”. This was back in the 60s, but it seems that these happenings sparked her on-going drive to tackle gender inequality and her belief that staying positive and optimistic is the key to knocking down barriers and getting to wherever you want to go in life… “There is a sense that things, if you keep positive and optimistic about what can be done, do work out.”

In today’s world, it’s hard to imagine that speaking up for women’s rights was considered controversial when Hillary Clinton made her famous “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech as First Lady of the United States at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, but her words are considered to have been key in terms of empowering women. However, it was another speech given in 1969 that began Hillary’s string of firsts. As a student at Wellesley College, she became the first student ever to give a speech during commencement festivities; a speech that earned her a seven-minute standing ovation. She then graduated from Yale Law School in 1973, one of only 27 females in a class of 235, and became the only female on the President Nixon impeachment investigation team. In 1975, Hillary moved to Arkansas where she join the Rose Law Firm. By 1978, she had co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and been appointed chair of the Legal Service Corporation, the first female to hold the position, and then in 1979, she became the Rose Law Firm’s first female partner.

High Expectations

Hillary’s string of firsts didn’t end there. In 1986, she was the first female to join Wal-Mart’s board of directors, and in 1987, she became the first chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. In 2001, Hillary was sworn in as U.S. Senator from New York, the first female to hold this position, also making her the first ever female to be elected into office after serving as First Lady.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s dream of breaking through “that highest, hardest glass ceiling” to become the first female U.S. president may have been dashed, but her achievements continue to inspire women around the globe. Back in 1969 when she gave her speech at Wellesley College, Hillary said, The question about possible and impossible was one that we brought with us to Wellesley four years ago. We arrived not yet knowing what was not possible. Consequently, we expected a lot… We arrived at Wellesley and we found, as all of us have found, that there was a gap between expectation and realities. But it wasn’t a discouraging gap and it didn’t turn us into cynical, bitter old women at the age of 18.” She has maintained throughout her life a sense that things, if you keep positive and optimistic about what can be done, do work out.

We all face challenges in life and all of us, at times, question what’s possible, but something we can all learn from Hillary’s achievements is that it’s only by remaining positive and optimistic that we can make change happen and make the seemingly impossible possible. In her words, “You have just one life to live. It is yours. Own it, claim it, live it, do the best you can with it.”


Marissa Mayer: Creating Impact at Yahoo

Marissa Mayer Quotes

Marissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo in 2012, a post she stepped into after thirteen years at Google where she had been one of the company’s earliest employees and the first female engineer. On arrival at Yahoo, she became the youngest woman ever to lead a Fortune 500 company, and while her success in this post is up for debate, there can be no denying that Marissa is someone who’s not afraid to step up to a challenge, or in her words, “I always did something I was a little a little not ready to do.”

Growing up, Marissa describes herself as “painfully shy”, yet she pushed through this to become captain of her high school debate team, Spanish club, and pom-pom squad, alongside taking part in a wide range of extracurricular activities including ballet and piano lessons. Perhaps overcoming her natural shyness taught her how to do what she was “a little not ready to do” but she says, “I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough. Sometimes that’s a sign that something really good is about to happen. You’re about to grow and learn a lot about yourself.”

Being in the Room

Marissa graduated from Stanford University with degrees in symbolic systems and computer science. She had intended to major in paediatric neuroscience but switched to symbolic systems – a combined study of computer science, philosophy, linguistics and psychology – which she describes as “studying the brain without the gore.” After graduation, she had any number of job options open to her but chose to sign up with Google because she felt the company offered greater opportunities to be a part of the decision-making process. She explains her choice by saying, I also interviewed at McKinsey, which is a great company, but I had some friends who went there, and they said, ‘Well, we give the presentations, and then we leave the room, and the executives make the decisions’ … I just felt like at Google I could be in the room. Even if you fail, you learn so much by being where the decision is made.”

When Marissa joined Yahoo, the company was struggling, and the first thing she wanted to do was change the culture. She wanted the people working there to feel valued, and she wanted to attract new recruits who would feel excited about joining the company, so she spent the first few weeks listening to people and building a picture of what could be done to generate a sense of pride in the workplace. She says, “One of the things that make people proud to work somewhere is having insights into how decisions are made.”

Go Time

Marissa made herself available to talk to people in the cafeteria every day, and she remembers on one occasion soon after her arrival, an employee approached her and asked, “Is it go time?” Having only been there for a few days, she made it clear she wanted him to stay and give her a chance, but he then let her know she’d misunderstood him; when he said “go”, he meant it as in getting to work. He explained that he was frustrated by the amount of time it took for management to make decisions, saying he had ideas he wanted to put forward.

This was exactly the attitude she was looking for and she opened up a weekly forum to encourage all employees to put forward their ideas which were then shared with the board, helping to demystify management decisions and create transparency across the company in the process. While at Google, Marissa learned from personal experience that being “in the room” and being a part of the decision-making process helped to generate a sense of trust between employees and the board which, in turn, helped a sense of pride to develop. Her leadership style and the decisions she has made have been criticized by many but she has her own way of dealing with this, saying, “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is there are always a lot of good choices, and then there’s the one you pick, commit to, and make great.”

As of this writing, Yahoo has been sold to Verizon and Marissa will not be a part of the future rebranded company called “Oath” (merging the capabilities of Yahoo and AOL). While Marissa’s future is uncertain, a leader as bold and innovative as Marissa is sure to find her way. We all have moments at work and in life when we feel a little not ready, but just remember, it’s pushing through those moments that helps you to grow – and it could be a sign that something really good is about to happen!

Nelson Mandela: Never Give Up

“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”

After spending 27 years of his life in prison, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela became the first President of South Africa and the country’s first black head of state, a role he won in the nation’s first democratic election – an achievement that gives real meaning to his belief that a winner is a dreamer who never gives up.

Narrowly escaping the death penalty for conspiring to overthrow the government, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. Prior to sentencing, he made his now famous I Am Prepared to Die speech in the dock of the court which ended with the words: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

On arrival at Robben Island prison, a warder’s first words to Nelson and the other ANC (African National Congress) members sentenced with him were, “This is the Island. Here you will die.” As political prisoners, they faced a life sentence of hard labor breaking rocks into gravel, living in individual cells no bigger than eight foot by seven foot, and furnished only with a sleeping mat and slop bucket.

Harsh Conditions

In the early years, there were no privileges. Nelson was allowed only one visitor for just 30 minutes each year, and one letter every six months. The daily routine was harsh and his eyesight was permanently damaged by the glare of the sun on the limestone rocks. Food supplies were limited and there was no hot water for washing, but complaints about conditions were guaranteed to result in even greater hardships. However, Nelson continued to stand up for himself and his fellow inmates by protesting over ill-treatment, stating in his autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom:

“In those early years, isolation became a habit. We were routinely charged for the smallest infractions and sentenced to isolation. The authorities believed that isolation was the cure for our defiance and rebelliousness. I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There was no end and no beginning; there is only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks.”

Leadership Skills

Nelson’s leadership skills soon became evident to his fellow inmates and the prison authorities. The warders would often hurry the men as they made their way to the quarry each morning until one day Nelson said, “Comrades, let’s be slower than ever.” In so doing, he slowed progress to a virtual standstill, thereby forcing the authorities into negotiations.

Over time, privileges such as reading materials were given and Robben Island was dubbed the “university behind bars” as inmates were granted permission to study a variety of courses. Nelson urged his fellow ANC inmates to join him in studying Afrikaans. They were reluctant to do so as this was the language of their oppressor, but he persuaded them by stating that they were in for a “protracted war” and what better way to learn how to ambush the enemy than by getting into the mind of the commanding general with an understanding of his culture.

War of Attrition

Nelson was a flawed man, he made mistakes, and he took responsibility for them, saying of himself, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying” – and try he did. Having endured a prison sentence of nearly three decades, he was right in his belief that it was to be a “protracted war” and a fellow inmate tells a tale of a game of chess that suggests Nelson fought a war of attrition in everything he did:

“They played for many hours in one day and they had to ask the warders to lock the chessboard up in the cell next door. They continued the next day and each move was so slow, this was a war of attrition. After a few hours, the young chap said, ‘Look, you win. Just take your victory.’ He wins.”

Nelson Mandela was finally freed by President F.W. de Klerk in 1990 and the pair won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 after negotiating an end to apartheid in South Africa. His anti-apartheid struggle was long and hard – but he never gave up.

A winner is a dreamer who never gives up. In the fast-paced, highly competitive world we live in today, are we a little too quick to give up?


Sheryl Sandberg: Leaning In to Leadership

“What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” 

Sheryl Sandberg is Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, founder of and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Previously, she held the position of Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google and prior to that, she was chief of staff at the U.S. Treasury Department. In 2016, Sheryl was ranked No.7 by Forbes in the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list, so why would this powerhouse of a woman ever need to ask herself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?”?    

Fear of Success

Well, it’s a question Sheryl has asked herself many times, and, as she sees it, she asks it because she’s a successful woman, and women are fearful of success. Her reasons for believing this to be so come from personal experience, and reach all the way back to her school days.

Having excelled in high school, her yearbook contained the words, “most likely to succeed”, but she had these removed because she feared they would make her unpopular and she wouldn’t get a date for the prom. She went on to win a scholarship in her first year of business school, but chose not to tell anyone about it, again through fear of this level of achievement reflecting badly on her and making her unpopular. In her own words, she says, “I instinctively knew that letting my academic performance become known was a bad idea … Being at the top of the class may have made life easier for my male peers, but it would have made my life harder.”  

Fear of Being Left on the Shelf

Sheryl’s parents were supporters of her academic achievement, but they also encouraged marriage. They believed it was important for a woman to marry young so that she’d get a “good man” before they were all taken, and the fear of being left on the shelf meant Sheryl was married at the age of 24. However, only a year later, she was divorced, leaving her with feelings of “massive personal and public failure”.

Fear had driven her decision to marry, and now divorce had left her so fearful of how she’d be perceived by others that despite having an MBA from Harvard and the offer of a job in Washington, she chose to move out to California in an attempt to escape the shame.

Fear of Not Being Liked

Fast forward to 2008 and her new role at Facebook. In her first performance review with new boss Mark Zuckerberg, he tells her that her efforts to be liked by everyone are holding her back. Sheryl realized he was right when he said that pleasing everyone wouldn’t change anything, and she now says, “Everyone needs to get more comfortable with female leaders, including female leaders themselves.”

This realization became the subject of a TED talk Sheryl gave in 2010. But, once again, fear of exposing herself and fear of telling her personal stories almost prevented her from giving the talk in the way she did. She stood backstage and agonized over whether to open up or stick to the safety of statistics and academic studies, but then she asked herself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” She spoke honestly about the difficulties of being a career woman and a mother, and the heartache of having her young daughter cling to her leg and plead with her not to get onto the plane that day. The talk triggered an avalanche of positive feedback, spurring Sheryl to use her speech as the basis of her bestselling first book, Lean In. Amazingly, she has since said, “Everyone I knew told me that I shouldn’t do this book, or talk about this, since it would be bad for my business career.”   

What Would You Do?

Sheryl Sandberg could have listened to those negative voices of fear, but she asked herself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” – and then she did it. All of us may find ourselves facing difficult situations or decisions we’re fearful of making as leaders, but next time, try asking yourself the same question – and then go do it.


Mary Kay Ash: The Face Behind the Empire

“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.” 

Mary Kay Ash was the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. in 1963 and The Mary Kay Foundation in 1996. Today, Mary Kay Cosmetics has over 3 million independent sales agents across 35 countries and is valued at around $2.6 billion. Mary Kay Ash is now recognized as America’s greatest woman entrepreneur, so what led her to say, “Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway”?

You Can Do It

Well, Mary Kay Ash grew up with the responsibility of caring for her father who had tuberculosis. Her mother worked long hours to support the family and it fell on Mary Kay’s shoulders to look after her father at home. The tasks Mary Kay faced as a young girl were often daunting, but her mother would guide and encourage her by saying, “You can do it, Mary Kay. You can do it.”

She dreamed of becoming a doctor and her “you can do it” attitude saw her graduate from high school, but her parents couldn’t afford to send her to college. Mary Kay married at the age of 17 and had three children before her husband left to serve in World War II. During the war years’ she supported her family by selling books door-to-door, and then she and her husband divorced on his return in 1945.

A Man’s World

Mary Kay was hugely successful as a door-to-door salesperson and after her divorce she took a job with a direct sales firm. Her success soon found her head-hunted by another company and her marketing skills quickly put her into the role of national training director. But, after 25 years of hard work in the direct sales business, her success had yet to be acknowledged by her supervisors and Mary Kay left the company when one of the men she’d trained was promoted above her and given double her salary.

This was the 1960s and Mary Kay believed that she was living in a man’s world. After quitting her job, it became her intention to write a book that would help women to succeed in the workplace. She sat down to write out a list of everything she felt the companies she’d worked for got right and another that highlighted the areas where she felt there was room for improvement. However, it soon became clear that she’d inadvertently created a business plan for her dream company.

Beauty by Mary Kay

in 1963, at the age of 45, Mary Kay put her $5,000 of savings into turning her plan into her business – a business designed to help women achieve unlimited opportunities for personal and financial success. With the help of her son, she opened her first Beauty by Mary Kay store in Dallas and her dream began. In the male-dominated business world of the ‘60s, she was the bumble bee that shouldn’t be able to fly – but she went ahead and flew anyway.

With dedication, determination and hard work, Mary Kay turned her small business with a sales force of nine into one of America’s largest direct selling cosmetics companies with an independent sales force of millions. She did it with the “you can do it” attitude passed on to her by her mother and she said, “Sometimes I wonder if my mother was aware of the seeds she was planting in my life as a child and where they would take not only me, but thousands of other women. What she sent into my life I sent into others’. And they in turn have sent what they have into many lives as well.”

The Power of Praise

Mary Kay Ash built her business on her philosophy of “praising people to success” and her steadfast commitment to empowering women, inspiring them to believe that they too can “fly”. She believed that any company’s greatest asset is its people and that “a company is only as good as the people it keeps.” In our hectic business lives, we may sometimes forget the importance of praising hard work and effort and we’d all do well to remember her visionary approach: “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, “Make me feel important.” Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”  


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Dwight D Eisenhower: General and President

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. He also served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War II and was responsible for the 1944-45 invasion of France and Germany from the Western Front. His name is never far from the top of any “Greatest U.S. Presidents” list and he has been voted Gallup’s “Most Admired Man” on twelve occasions, so what led him to say, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”?

Operation Overlord

On June 6th, 1944, a day now known as D-Day, Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the massive invasion over the English Channel into Normandy. He knew that casualties would be high, but he also knew that he had done everything possible to prepare his men for the challenges ahead, and he knew that to them he was not a faceless commander issuing orders from an ivory tower, he was one of them.

On the morning of the invasion, each soldier, sailor and airman about to go into battle was given a letter composed by Eisenhower the night before. In it, he inspired and motivated these men to fight bravely with the words: “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you…” He knew that once the order to begin Operation Overlord was given, there was nothing more he could do and the success of the mission depended on the bravery of his men and their motivation to do what had to be done – because they wanted to.

Leadership Qualities

In a speech given to Royal British Military Academy cadets on their graduation in 1944, Eisenhower said, “You must know every single one of your men. It is not enough that you are the best soldier in that unit, that you are the strongest, the toughest, the most durable, the best equipped, technically—you must be their leader, their father, their mentor, even if you’re half their age. You must understand their problems. You must keep them out of trouble; if they get in trouble, you must be the one who goes to their rescue. That cultivation of human understanding between you and your men is the one part that you must yet master, and you must master it quickly.

These words demonstrate his personal leadership qualities and his firm belief that leadership lies in never seeing those you lead as numbers, but as individuals with hopes, dreams and aspirations of their own. During his military years, Eisenhower got to know what motivated each of the men under his command and he used that motivation to inspire them to give their best in every task they faced.

Trusted Leader

As Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, Eisenhower’s men trusted him to make carefully considered decisions. They knew that he would not send them into battle without thinking long and hard about the potential outcomes, and they knew that any decision to do so was one of necessity and not made lightly. He gained this trust by being among his men and getting to know them, becoming a motivational father figure to them all.  

In the days and hours before D-Day, Eisenhower visited as many soldiers, sailors and airmen as was physically possible. He strongly believed that he should not be a faceless commander and he made it a priority to personally meet and speak to the men he would be sending into battle. He shook hands with them, asking them to break ranks and gather around him so he could talk to them as individuals. He motivated and inspired them, asking them to tell him about their homes and their families, and he encouraged them to be fearless in the face of danger by giving them the why of the orders they’d be given, creating “a deep-seated conviction in every individual’s mind that he is fighting for a cause worthy of any sacrifice he may make.”

Getting Things Done

The same self-confident and genuine leadership qualities that inspired his troops inspired an entire nation and Eisenhower became the 34th President of the United States in 1953. As a soldier and a president, he knew that the best way to get things done and to inspire others to give their best was to believe in them.

What have you done to inspire your “troops” lately?

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John F Kennedy: New Frontiers

 “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” 

John F. Kennedy was President of the United States from January, 1961 to November 22nd, 1963, the date of his assassination. His term in office was tragically cut short but JFK remains one of America’s best-loved presidents in opinion polls to this day, and his iconic speeches are remembered around the world. He was the youngest man to be elected president, and the youngest to die as president, but what did he mean when he said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future”?

Captain Kennedy

During World War II, JFK was an officer in the U.S. Navy and captain of PT-109. While on night patrol in the South Pacific, PT-109 was hit and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, leaving JFK and his surviving crew stranded in the water. His leadership qualities immediately shone through as he calmly gathered his men to ask for their view on whether to fight on or surrender, saying: “There’s nothing in the book about a situation like this. A lot of you men have families and some of you have children. What do you want to do? I have nothing to lose.” The decision to fight on was made and JFK led his crew on a three-mile swim to the nearest island – towing an injured crewman with him, gripping the man’s lifejacket strap in his teeth all the way.

JFK’s heroic actions led to him being awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. He also received the Purple Heart Medal for the injuries he sustained after the incident aggravated an on-going lower back condition that would eventually see him honorably discharged and retired from the Navy.

President Kennedy

In 1961, just a matter of months into his presidency, a failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs was a disaster for JFK. However, he took responsibility and said, “We got a big kick in the leg and we deserved it. But maybe we’ll learn something from it.” And learn he did. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis left the world teetering on the verge of nuclear war, and JFK’s leadership qualities once again shone through. Just as there had been “nothing in the book” about the situation he faced as captain of PT-109, no administration had faced the situation he now had in front of him.

JFK was given conflicting advice by his top men, most advising they should strike quickly before the Soviet missiles became fully operational. However, with the lessons learned from the Bay of Pigs, JFK held back, knowing that taking aggressive action could result in all-out nuclear war. Instead, he stayed calm, gathered information, questioned everything, and considered every option. After 13 days, an agreement was reached and the world breathed a sigh of relief as the Soviet missiles were withdrawn from Cuba.

Crisis Manager

When JFK said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future,” he demonstrated his understanding that unprecedented things can and will happen, and while lessons can be learned from looking back, moving forward may depend on looking to the future and doing something that has never been done before.

As captain of PT-109, there was nothing in the book to guide his decisions when the boat was sunk. He stayed calm and refused to allow the pressure of the situation to drive his actions. As president, there was nothing in the book to guide his decisions in the midst of a nuclear crisis, but he stayed calm under pressure and considered every option, refusing to repeat the mistakes of his past. As one of history’s greatest crisis managers, he realized that facing an unprecedented situation may require taking unprecedented action – he looked beyond the past and the present to be certain he would not “miss the future”.

You may not be facing a nuclear crisis, but things change in business and you may find yourself facing a situation you’ve never faced before. If you want to lead like JFK, remember his words of wisdom: “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.”



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Catherine the Great: Leading Expansion

“A great wind is blowing and that gives you either imagination… or a headache.” 

Catherine II was the ruler of Russia for more than thirty years, a time that became known as Russia’s “Golden Age”. Her remarkable rise from humble beginnings in Germany to becoming the empress of Russia and the most powerful woman in the world is an extraordinary story of success, yet it takes an understanding of why she said, “A great wind is blowing and that gives you either imagination, or a headache” to understand what made Catherine II so “great”.

Sophia of Pomerania

Born in Prussia, Catherine’s birth name was Sophia Augusta Fredericka and her father belonged to the ruling German family. However, despite the title of princess, she grew up in a family with very little money. It was the ambitions of her mother that led to Catherine moving to Russia and being presented as a potential wife to Peter III, heir to the throne.

She was just 14 years old and had no knowledge of the Russian language, but she already had a strong sense of her own destiny. In her memoirs, she wrote, “The title of Queen rang sweetly in my ears,” giving an indication of the level of determination she already had to succeed.

Whatever it Takes

Catherine despised her future husband, finding Peter to be boring and immature, but she married him at the age of 16, becoming empress consort when he succeeded to the throne as Emperor Peter III. She knew he would not make her happy, but she also knew he was incapable of being an effective ruler and she would at least be the power behind the throne.

From the moment of setting foot in Russia, Catherine had worked hard at ingratiating herself with the Russian people. She learned the language and converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, stating in her memoirs that her mind was made up to do whatever it would take to one day wear the crown.

Empress Catherine

As predicted, Peter III proved to be a disastrous leader and Catherine orchestrated a coup, forcing him to sign abdication papers. She became Catherine II after rallying the support of Saint Petersburg’s troops and people, and began a reign that would span 34 years until her death.

Her ambition, determination and hard work gave her the prize she saw as her destiny, and she used her position of power to set about reforming Russia. She became an “enlightened” leader, not only expanding Russia’s land and influence in the world, but also promoting art and education, helping to develop, enhance and strengthen Russian culture as we know it today. The first Russian university was founded, along with theatres, museums and libraries, and though she was an absolute ruler, Catherine was loved by the people as a benevolent leader, leading to a six-month period of public mourning after her death.

Imagination… or Headache

Not all of Catherine’s methods can be applauded, but her drive, ambition and leadership qualities are none-the-less admirable. She began preparing for her success at a young age and she worked hard and courageously to achieve her ambition. Throughout her life and her reign, a great wind of change was blowing across Russia, but her strength of character and her vision of her own and her country’s future allowed her to use her imagination to affect positive change, no matter how many headaches she endured along the way.

Catherine once said, “Power without a nation’s confidence is nothing.” Whether leading a country or leading a team in business, there are going to be stormy times and headaches, but we’d all do well to face these times with imagination so we too may inspire confidence in those we lead. The qualities that made Catherine great can also make a business leader great… just imagine!     


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Mahatma Ghandi: Quiet Strength

“Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.” 

Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of the Indian independence movement, famed for his use of non-violent passive resistance to gain India’s freedom from British rule. He dedicated his life to the pursuit of civil rights and freedom for all around the world, and his teachings inspired many political leaders to come, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. The story of his personal struggles and experiences in his early life not only help to uncover the true strength of his character, they also demonstrate the truth behind his words when he said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.”

London Bound

In 1888, at the age of 18, Gandhi set sail from India to study law in England. It was hoped that he would one day step into his father’s role as diwan (chief minister) of Porbandar state and a Brahmin priest advised his family that qualifying as a London barrister would help him to succeed in securing this position.

It would be 1891 before Gandhi returned to India, but his planned law practice in Bombay failed due to his difficulty with cross-examining witnesses. In 1893, he took a new post with an Indian company based in South Africa, also under British rule, in which he would work as a legal representative for Muslim Indian Traders. His contract was for one year, but Gandhi remained in South Africa for 21 years.


Gandhi was employed as a lawyer by wealthy Muslims and he also represented Hindu laborers with very few rights. The discrimination faced by Indians and all people of color in South Africa was something he was to experience first-hand, being physically removed from a bus after he refused to vacate his first-class seat. He was then beaten by a bus driver after refusing to give up his seat to a European passenger; prevented from entering several hotels, and kicked into the street by a police officer upholding the South African law that Indians had no right to walk on footpaths.

Witnessing the injustice, prejudice and racism facing Indians in South Africa led to Gandhi seriously questioning the place and standing of his people in the British Empire, proving to be a turning point in his life and the beginnings of his social activism – Gandhi’s will to change the world was on its way to becoming indomitable.

The Boer War

In 1900, Gandhi raised a group of over one thousand Hindu volunteers to aid the British in the Boer War as stretcher-bearers. They were medically certified and trained for front line duties, something Gandhi had been determined to achieve in response to the British belief that Hindus were not suited to physical, dangerous or “manly” tasks. As auxiliaries to a European (white) ambulance corps, Gandhi’s stretcher-bearers proved themselves when they carried wounded soldiers for many miles on foot across terrain that was unsuitable for ambulances, a feat the European volunteers were unable to match due to the heat and lack of food and water.

For their courage, Gandhi and 37 Indian volunteer stretcher-bearers received the Queen’s South Africa Medal. His life-long devotion to ending the “deep disease of color prejudice” and his will to endure whatever hardships this would bring was now indomitable.


Gandhi returned to India in 1915, but by 1919 he found he was no longer willing to pledge allegiance to the British government after the massacre of 400 unarmed, peaceful protestors, and he returned the medals awarded to him in South Africa. His struggle to achieve independence for India through non-violent civil disobedience would continue until 1947, a time through which he endured imprisonment on more than one occasion and undertook many fasts in protest.

Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” and he was. While we may not face the challenges faced by Gandhi in our daily lives at the office, we’d all do well to remember that the changes we want to see in our environment and the people around us must first of all come from us – and our will to be the change we want to see in the world around us must be indomitable.