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What Winston Churchill Can Teach Us About Project Management

winston-churchillSir Winston Churchill is one of my personal heroes. He is a man who hugely influenced the Second World War through the power of his speeches and his will to win, going on to be widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in history.

This inspirational statesman left us with a huge number of fantastic quotes, as he was noted for being very quick witted and for having a formidable sense of humor. One of the things I find most intriguing about truly timeless pieces of wisdom is that they can be applied to just about any walk of life, so let’s see how Churchill’s most famous quotes relate to project management.

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.

This phrase can easily be applied to project management, although it presumably was originally spoken with politics in mind. It is tempting to try and keep everyone happy all the time but this simply isn’t possible when working on projects, just as it isn’t in any other aspect of life. Occasionally you might need to tell someone something they don’t want to hear but as long as your intentions are good this isn’t something to worry about too much.

Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.

It is hard to deny the good sense behind this Churchill quote. One of the most important aspects of project management is that of finding the right people to talk to and the people who can make the decisions which need making.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

It is easy to forget how tough life was for even the most successful figures in history. For all his achievements and his privileged upbringing there is no doubt that Churchill had his failures and his dark moments. How must it have felt to be one of the few people who could take his country through the darkest days of WWII or to have lost the elections in the same year that he triumphantly announced that the war had been won? We all have our own personal battles to win and sometimes the only way to get out of hell is to keep going in the right direction until the scenery changes.

It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.

It really is remarkable how many of the most famous Churchill quotes immediately bring project work to mind. In this case, it is easy to let a project drift to an unsatisfactory conclusion even if you feel that you have done your best. In this case, you should start the next project you are given by wondering what is required to get the required results.

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

Hopefully your project management career won’t involve you going from one failure to another but there are still some points we can pick up from this phrase. At some point you are sure to run into problems or negative feedback or some other issue which makes you feel as though you are failing. To fight through this phase you need to be sure to keep your enthusiasm levels high.

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.

This is one of my all time favorite quotes. Clearly you need to always have a strategy behind your projects but do you occasionally let the need to stick to this strategy take on greater importance than the end results? Results are what matter most for a project manager – just as they do for a politician or just about anyone else – and you need to make sure that you never lose track of this simple truth.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

There is no denying that it takes an awful lot of courage to stand up in front of a room full of business experts and high level bosses in order to deliver a presentation or an update. However, sometimes it is all about knowing when to stay seated and let others have their say. Honing your listening skills is just as important as honing your speaking skills. No one will expect you to deliver mesmerizing rallying calls like Churchill did when all seemed lost in the war, but you should be able to both speak when it is needed and listen when it is time to listen.

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