Leadership lessons from the 1st Viscount William Slim
Recently a colleague meandered along Whitehall after a client meeting. Upon passing a particular statue he stopped to pause, “Ah” he said, “Leadership is pure you”.
It turns out that the statue was of 1st Viscount William Slim and “Leadership is pure you” is one of his quotes.
Slim was born near Bristol the son of an unsuccessful businessman. He joined the Army in August 1914 and served in both World Wars. During the Second World War he led the 5th Indian Infantry Division in East Africa and later the 10th Indian Division in Burma followed by the 14th Army. Through his adaptation and training methods, soldiers of the 14th were able to overcome their fear of the jungle and fighting the Japanese on what many of them considered to be ‘their own turf’. This led to a successful 1944 offensive back into Burma where, along with support from the Burmese (also under Slim’s command), the Japanese army was removed from the country.
With many successes under his belt, Slim rapidly rose to the rank of General by the end of the war. He retired in 1948 only to return to the Army to take the post of Chief of the Imperial Staff at the request of Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Slim was chosen in favour of another wartime leader – Viscount ‘Monty’ Montgomery.
But perhaps Slim’s most astonishing promotion was making it to the lowly rank of Second Lieutenant in the first place? In 1912, most of the Army’s Officer Corps were men from well-to-do back grounds who were following their fathers and grandfathers into regiments that were entwined with their family history. It wasn’t until after the First World War that the Army started to consider that leaders might come from outside the top of the social set!
It was said of Slim, “the 14th Army trusted Slim and thought of him as one of themselves, and perhaps his real secret was that the feeling was mutual.”
So now his quote makes more sense – “Leadership is pure you”.
Leading and following
People will not follow your family history, who your father or grandfather was. People will not follow your ideals, principles, values and beliefs. People will not follow your job title, annual wage or bonus structure.
They will follow the person they see – the pure you…
Now I want to hear a collective sigh of relief from all those readers of this who are in positions of leadership – because it means YOU CAN DO THIS! You just need to decide what type of leader you want to be – and behave like that.
And you can start doing that from NOW.
Go on – give it a go….