Gongol.com Archives: February 2024

Brian Gongol


February 25, 2024

News The long road to becoming Churchill

By the time he became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill had seen it all. He was 65 years old, had served in Parliament intermittently for 40 years, and had served as an officer on the Western Front of the First World War, as head of the Royal Navy, and as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The circumstances of his selection as Prime Minister reflected the extraordinary peril of the war and the need to bring together a national unity government. ■ Sometimes a community needs an extraordinary leader, but it should never count on the right individual rising to the occasion. What every community needs -- all of the time -- is a set of dependable institutions that store the right lessons from the past and cultivate the individual leaders needed in the future. ■ Institutional inertia is always a hazard; sometimes an institution perpetuates itself merely for the benefit of the people inside it. That is all too often the case with bureaucratic creep: Rare is the bureaucracy like the Civil Aeronautics Board, which put itself right out of business. ■ But a functional civilization has to depend upon a broad-based range of institutions across the public, private, and public-interest sectors, all of which need to be forever interested in reforming themselves. The institution that fails to constantly reform itself -- and be seen to be reforming -- leaves itself open to challengers who demand disruption. ■ The problem with disruption (as a substitute for reform) is that it tends to reward the loudest promoters with the boldest claims -- not the people best prepared to lead. An outside perspective shouldn't be dismissed arbitrarily; lots of institutions can gain from the perspective of outsiders and ought to be open to fresh ideas. But those ideas need to prove themselves better than what came before. ■ Good institutions form the people inside them and make them better people. When people and their institutions learn together, the people gain useful experience and the institutions capture useful institutional memory. Churchill had shameful failures in his past, from which both he and his institutions learned. It was because both he and the institutions learned that he was prepared to become such a pivotal figure in achieving Allied success in the Second World War. ■ When we choose leaders, we choose institutions -- and when we form institutions, we form leaders. When we turn to disruptors, we risk losing the sorting and forming processes that deliver the greats.


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