Finding Victory Inside Defeat: Part 4

Wars are not won by evacuations. But there was a victory inside this deliverance, which should be noted.
— Winston Churchill

A leader's mettle is tested in crisis. These downturns and disappointments are inevitable. How the leader acts and reacts is mission critical. The good news is that we can find victory inside our "defeats." Winston Churchill's leadership during Operation Dynamo provides eleven essential principles for leaders intent on making progress in the face of peril.

In this five-part post I unpack each principle, providing historical context, leadership analysis, and biblical perspective. Along the way I will provide you with assessment questions and supply links to additional articles and tools to help.

Yesterday we reviewed principles five and six: 5) Launch your Mosquito Armada and 6) Look ahead. Today we will look at principles seven and eight:

7. Remember the Royal Air Force: It takes the unseen forces to win.
8. Find General Spears: Lean on aids equal to the action.

How to make the most of this post:

  • Review it: The post is thorough. Give it a quick review looking at the headings, quotes (they're good), and questions.
  • Read it: If you are in downturn or want to be ready for one, take the time to read the post in its entirety.
  • Sit with it: Drill down on one or two key points that are most pertinent to your situation.
  • Act on it: Churchill poured over plans. He critically assessed them. Then he redrew his plans to fit the changing circumstances and took action. As the leader responsible for your organization, take the time to draw up your plan to snatch a victory from your defeat.

Finding Victory Inside Defeat - Principles 7 & 8

7. Remember the Royal Air Force: It takes the unseen forces to win.

While the Mosquito Armada worked to evacuate soldiers, they did so under the constant bombardment by the German Air Force. Some British ships were sunk. Hundreds of British and French soldiers were killed as they were ferried along or as they waited patiently to be evacuate on the shore or in shallow waters. 

Those casualties would have been greater were it not for the Royal Air Force. Largely unseen, unheard, and definitely under-appreciated by their comrades on the ground, they attacked the superior German forces relentlessly. Churchill notes:

Hour after hour [the Royal Air Force] bit into the German fighter and bomber squadrons, taking a heavy toll, scattering them and driving them away. Day after day this went on, till the glorious victory of the Royal Air Force was gained. . . . Unhappily, the troops on the beaches saw very little of this epic conflict in the air, often miles away or above the clouds.”

The pilots work was "unhappy" in that the soldiers in the water did not know that it was the airmen in the sky who were taking heroic measures to make evacuation possible.

Churchill's account makes clear that victories are won with the help of "unseen" forces. Simon F. Cooper, President of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, speaks to the importance of the "unseen" as he writes of the Ladies and Gentlemen who serve with the Ritz-Carlton group,

While seeking to encourage . . . the people I most wanted to reach out to--and thank--were those who wash the laundry, deliver the room service, maintain the boilers, and clean the guest rooms. Without them, we would not be the award-winning hotel company we are . . . . To me, they and their families are the true unsung heroes of the hospitality industry. 

Leaders are masters of the turnaround. They snatch victories out of defeats by mobilizing and empowering the unseen workers who labor on behalf of the mission.

Questions to ask:

  1. Who are the unseen forces that are crucial to snatching victory in your current retreat, defeat, or downturn?
  2. What can you do personally and organizationally to acknowledge, equip, empower, employ and thank the unseen forces on your team?

8. Find General Spears: Lean on aids equal to the action.

Churchill was a man of enormous talents. He had an expansive mind and a biting wit. He was also quite prescient as James Humes notes in Churchill: Prophetic StatesmanThe Prime Minister had enormous stamina matched only by his self-confidence. But he was not a one-man show. Churchill recognized what Henry Cloud has described as "the power of the other," that certain kinds of relationships are what get one to the next level.

Churchill flew to Paris on May 31, 1940 for meeting of the Supreme War Council. Clement Attlee, Lord Privy Seal, and Generals Dill and Ismay flew with him, but there was another member of the British traveling party that Churchill valued, an indispensable aid, General Spears.

I also took General Spears, who had flown over on the 30th with the latest news from Paris. This brilliant officer and Member of Parliament was a friend of mine from the First Great War.  Half French by birth . . . [and] speaking French with a perfect accent and learning five wound stripes on his sleeve, he was a personality at this moment fitted to our anxious relations. When Frenchmen and Englishmen are in trouble together and arguments break out, the Frenchmen is often voluble and vehement, and the Englishmen unresponsive or even rude. But Spears could say things to the high French personnel with an ease and force which I have never seen equaled.”

Leaders turn defeats into victories as they lean on aids, like Spears, who are equal to the task at hand. This was the way the Apostle Paul worked. Paul's mark on Christendom is so significant that it is easy to view him in light of some version of the great man theory. The fact is that Paul was the poster child "for", "with" and "through" others.

Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.
— 2 Timothy 4:11 ESV

Luke's account of the early church and Paul's New Testament letters are full references to Paul's dependence on others. "Paul and Timothy," "Paul and Silas," "Paul and all the brothers" are a few of the phrases that speak to Paul's dependence on "the other." He mentions some eighty individuals by name in the letters he penned. Like Churchill, Paul understood the power of the other. He trusted aids equal to the task.

Questions to ask:

  1. Who is your General Spears?
  2. What makes this person so indispensable to you?
  3. What other individual, like Spears, do you need to be your best?

Resources to consider:

  1. The Power Of The Other by Henry Cloud.
  2. "Lincoln's Leadership: Surround Yourself With Great People"

Never Give Up

Churchill's actions show that it is possible to find victories -- small and large -- in failures that are embarrassing, disheartening, and potential fatal. The key is to approach it humbly, act decisively, and move with wholehearted resolve. Name your problem. Take action today.

If You Missed It

Did you miss yesterday's post and the previous two leadership principles? Read about them here.

Coming Up

Tomorrow we will look at the last three leadership principles I saw displayed in the Dunkirk account:

9. Sing your song: Remember the power of consistent communication.
10. Acknowledge the brilliant episode: Give credit effusively.
11. Link arms: It takes "heart and soul" alignment.

Don't want to wait? Read all five parts in their entirety here.


Excerpts from THE SECOND WORLD WAR, Volume II: Their Finest Hour by Winston S. Churchill. Copyright (c) 1949 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, renewed 1976 by Lady Spencer-Churchill, The Honourable Lady Sarah Audley, and the Honourable Lady Soames. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Hartcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

  1. "Wars are not won by evacuations . . ." p. 115.
  2. Churchill provides a narrative of the German bombing on page 104.
  3. "Hour after hour . . ." p. 104.
  4. "While seeking to encourage . . ." Quoted in The New Gold Standard, 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Joseph A. Michelli. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008. Pages ix-x.
  5. Henry Cloud provides a masterly explanation of this concept in The Power Of The Other. New York: Harper Business. 2016. Page 16.
  6. "I also took General Spears . . ." p. 109.