Friday, June 7, 2013

A Wife's Words

Winston and Clementine in 1908 (source: Wikipedia)
Interesting. During WWII Churchill had some rather bad days, and understandably, his temper flared and his patience waned. Eventually news of his temper and ill treatment of subordinates reached his wife, Clementine. She decided to pen a short note to Churchill, reminding him that with great power comes a good dose of humility and "Olympic calm."  From Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills, Clementine's letter reads:

10 Downing Street,

June 27, 1940

My Darling,

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know.

One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me & told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough sarcastic & overbearing manner — It seems your Private Secretaries have agreed to behave like school boys & 'take what's coming to them' & then escape out of your presence shrugging their shoulders — Higher up, if an idea is suggested (say at a conference) you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished & upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with & under you, loving you — I said this & I was told 'No doubt it's the strain' —

My Darling Winston — I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not so kind as you used to be.

It is for you to give the Orders & if they are bungled — except for the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury & the Speaker, you can sack anyone & everyone — Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote:— 'On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme' — I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love as well as admire and respect you —

Besides you won't get the best results by irascibility & rudeness. They willbreed either dislike or a slave mentality — (Rebellion in War time being out of the question!)

Please forgive your loving devoted & watchful

Today, sentiments such as this are more likely to be shared over e-mail vs. letter -- but shared none the less.  I do wonder:  how many spouses offer little hints and reminders to their husbands and wives, rather they are leaders in business or government?  Sometimes it is the spouse and only the spouse that can provide a gentle but appropriate -- and sometimes firm -- criticism that can affect a leaders outlook and behavior.  And sometimes they are the only appropriate person, or maybe most effective person to do so...

A short aside.  I once was working in an embassy, and an Admiral was coming by for a visit.  He was bringing his wife.  My boss called me into the office and held up two pieces of paper, one yellow the other red, and with a smile he said, "this itinerary (yellow) is the Admiral's, this itinerary (red) is his wife's, which one is more important?" I guessed, but guessed correctly.  "The wife's" I said.  "Absolutely...absolutely" he said.  

The spouse has more pull and influence then we give credit for.  So if you are sitting there on top of the world, leading form the front, in charge of hundreds of thousands of dollars, or hundreds of men and women, remember this:  When your husband or wife tells you that you need to show some "Olympic patience," it may be time to heed that advice.

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