11am on the 11th day of the 11th month of 2018 marks one hundred years since the signing of The Armistice which ended the First World War. There’s much to remember and learn from that Great War – negative and positive – about many aspects of life, including the importance of leadership. That’s why, as part of my contribution to Armistice 100, I’m writing a daily blog over these next 11 days entitled 11 Leadership Lessons for Armistice 100.
It’s important to reflect on the First World War because it marks a pivotal point in British and world history. Also, like most British people today, my family were profoundly shaped by this war and by its leaders and the leadership decisions they made. As a leader in the UK church today I want to learn all I can from what happened back then, to improve my leadership and to encourage others. That’s why, over the coming 11 days, I’ll be considering 11 leadership matters which were important to the crisis 100 years ago and are still relevant right now.
So today I offer the first of 11 short leadership blogs on Armistice 100, for today’s leaders in the church and beyond.
Winston Churchill is known as the Prime Minister who helped Britain win the Second World War. What many don’t know is that he had a colourful and controversial political career before then, particularly during the First World War. Some thought him brilliant, many thought him dangerous. What most historians agree on, is that he played a vital part in preparing us for the First World War.
Preparation is important in any aspect of life. If something significant is looming, it’s naive to be ill-prepared, whether you’re building something, or fighting a battle in life. Jesus said just this in Luke 14:28-32: ‘Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?’
On becoming First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, Churchill didn’t rely on the fact that there’d been a century of managed peace in Europe since the Napoleonic Wars and so assume all would be fine. Instead he recognised the growing German desire for ‘a place in the sun’, took stock of our plans and found that Britain was in no way ready for a major world conflict. So over the next three years preparations were made. Strategies were drawn up. Plans were pulled together. Resources were gathered. Without these the First World War would probably have resulted in a very different outcome for Britain, Europe, and further afield. No doubt more preparation could have been done, especially as the war unfolded, with strategic plans often being far from co-ordinated due to competing demands. On the western front in particular the world powers got locked into a stale-mate of horrific trench warfare which no-one could resolve until Allied numbers were boosted once the Americans joined the war. Nevertheless, before the war started many important preparatory things were done to get us ready for the Great War – including building ships, modifying ships to run on oil and securing a long-term oil contract, as well as creating the Royal Air Naval Service and the first British signals intelligence agency.
This reminds us that an important role of leadership in any organisation, community or nation is to ensure good preparation is in place. We can’t always see the future, but we can do our best to be ready for all sorts of eventualities. As we read the signs of the times, how are we preparing? What is the plan? Have we got the resources we need? If not, how might we ensure they’re ready in six months or a year’s time?
The senior church leader Paul wrote to his apprentice leader, Timothy, and offered him this advice: ‘be prepared, in season and out of season’ (1 Timothy 4:2). ‘Be ready’ was the advice. In the church, be ready with a message to bring. With a prayer to pray. With something practical to share. With a sacrifice to make. With money to give. Or even with a team to send. Be prepared.
Benjamin Franklin was surely right when he famously said, ‘By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.’ So as you look ahead, what do you need to prepare for?