This weekend, I watched the movie, Darkest Hour, for the third time. It’s the actual and inspiring recount of Winston Churchill's most turbulent and defining trials: negotiate a peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or stand firm to fight for the ideals, liberty, and freedom of a nation. Churchill’s always been a hero of mine, as is any leader forged in the fires of a crucible. But there was something more than just operating past the detractors that caused me to hang on every single word of this masterpiece.
Churchill, like most of us, had failures that haunted him, ones that his colleagues would not let him soon forget. Indeed when the movie opens with Chamberlain's resignation, Churchill is begrudgingly given the position because no one else wants it. For any of you who have stepped into a failing organization because no one from the inside will lead, you understand. Even with the Nazi’s rolling across Germany at blitzkrieg speed, Churchill was handicapped with an unprepared public, a skeptical king, and his own party plotting against him.
And they almost defeated him. There was a scene in the movie where Churchill yielded to the destructive doubt the king and his party were putting on him. Churchill possessed self-efficacy, the fundamental tenet of transformational leadership, yet he almost gave up the ghost. When King George VI comes to his house. Churchill is disheveled from a lack of sleep, demoralized by a lack of support, and fighting his own inner demons.
And then the tipping point happens. After considering the very unfavorable option of ruling in exile from Canada, the King has a change of heart and mind and gives the Prime Minister his full support. Churchill is reborn because he now has another who will support his behavior. He then goes to the people while riding the Underground and gets their informed input. They also lend their full support. He next addresses his inner chamber and finally Parliament, who also both give their support. Although the battle is just beginning, Churchill "mobilized the English language to go into battle." One of the sources of self-efficacy is verbal persuasion. Churchill moved the nation to action by giving words of hope. But he could only do so after words of hope were given to him.
It finally dawned on me why I am in love with this film. I, too, possess a high degree of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is your belief that when given a task to complete you can accomplish the goal. However, I had to look back at my own professional path and realize that even though I knew I could meet the challenge, I had resigned and gone to another position because I knew the establishment was less than enthusiastic in their support of me. It finally became clear. I didn't have my King George VI throwing in his favor. I didn't have the collaborative assistance of my peers. And when this happens, the leader has to make the tough call that even though they could accomplish the goal, the lack of supportive relationships will prevent them from doing so.
So let this movie be a lesson to us who have emerging leaders with a high sense of self-efficacy. We must do everything in our power to support them once we have put them in the position. "V" is for victory, not vilify. To not cheer for their success is to cut off our nose to spite our face. And for those leaders who feel like they are the lone wolf desperately trying to lead from the second chair and push a rope, unless you find someone in your corner, no amount of self-efficacy is going to get you there. You cannot do it alone. As Peter Drucker so famously said, “Talent cannot overcome dysfunction.”Let this be a lesson for all of us. And may we not stand in the way of our transformational leaders when they need us the most.