I thought about what to blog about. Never give up, my husband said. I thought he meant for me to not give up on coming up with a blog topic, so I thought some more. Maybe that guy throwing his shoes at George Bush, I said. That would be a good leadership blog. Sort of about what not to do. Don’t throw your shoes at the leader of the free world and all that. Try to keep control of yourself. Be emotionally aware and so forth. Be able to disconnect your hot buttons. Maintain your good reputation. Not prove to people that you are an idiot in ten small seconds. Five, maybe. Stay a bit under the radar if you’re having a non-emotionally-intelligent day. Leave your shoes at home.
Never give up, he said, and I realized that he meant for me to write a blog about that. About not giving up. But Winston Churchill had already said all there is to say about that, really. He had been very clear, when with his jowls trembling, he said it and emphasized it: “Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up.” He actually said it on more than one occasion, sometimes mixing it with another favorite mantra: “Never give in.” I think he meant it.
When you consider the times in which Winston Churchill wrote this, it is clear how powerful it was. People were thinking about giving up on a daily basis. Their social, political, economic, and geographical foundations seemed to be slipping away dramatically right under their very feet. The world as they knew it was unrecognizable. Bombs were dropping. People were dying. Buildings were falling. The fabric of society was peeling apart. I’ll bet for a few of them giving up seemed like a reasonable option. For some of them it may have seemed like they had no other option! And those were the very ones Churchill was talking to. He wanted them to keep that famous British stiff upper lip. He wanted them to keep the faith.
We still have Churchill’s words ringing in our ears. Most of us can remember them even though we weren’t alive to hear them. We’ve really never been a giving-up kind of a country, and that’s very good. It gives us a strong legacy to lean on in these difficult economic times. We need it. All of us do. And it’s our job as leaders to inspire our organizations, both professional and personal, to keep the faith. Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up. It creates a deeply held value for us that mandates a right way to do things.
And what was Churchill talking about not giving up to? Not giving in to? I think it was the evil of entropy. The notion that if you give up or give in for a moment things start slipping away and it’s hard to get them back. Giving up starts that insidious process. I realized that not giving up is the key to everything. Success in anything depends on not giving up. Weight loss. A wonderful marriage. Good parenting. Quitting smoking or drinking. Reaching a creative solution to a business problem. Winning a war. Retrieving a ruined reputation. Regaining health after a heart attack or amputation. Learning to play basketball or skateboard. Completing a dissertation. Anything we try to do, if we give up, it starts slipping back. That’s what Winston Churchill meant. Don’t let it start slipping away. Sometimes you can’t stop it once it starts.
Another famous shoe incident some of us remember: Nikita Khrushchev taking off his shoe and pounding it on the table of a summit of world leaders. All of the most powerful leaders in the world at the table, and in his feelings of anger and impotence he was unable to form words, so he took off his shoe and started pounding. Some of us feel like this right now, with our retirement, our health insurance, our Christmas vacations, and our bonuses slipping away. But we should never give up. It could be worse, no matter how bad it gets. A big part of what helps us conquer anything is just what Churchill said: not giving up. If you want to land on your feet, you can’t give up in the middle of the air.
It is part of the leader’s job to maintain hope, to inspire. Yes, we must be realistic, but realism should include a generous dose of optimism because we really are strong and smart, creative and caring. We are a great nation. We must never give up. Never, never, never, never give up.