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Daring leaders speak from the heart: Churchill, climate change, and the sleeping hero

26 January 2018

By Philip Woodford, coach and consultant

Do you scare your audience witless with potential threats or offer them hope which might just encourage their participation in creating a brighter future?

That’s the dilemma for many wrestling with how best to get across the climate change message, and it was mine in writing and performing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe last year called “The Hero who Overslept” alongside my collaborator, Dr Stephen Peake, Senior Lecturer at the Open University.

In the end we did a bit of both, using head and heart both to shock our audience but also inspire a love for a planet that is more than simply an inanimate lump of rock spinning in space. After all, it’s our home.

Of course it’s much easier to rouse your audience to heroic acts when there’s an immediate and present danger to your homeland, which is precisely what one of our greatest ever leaders achieved back in 1940, as depicted so powerfully in the newly released film “Darkest Hour”. Churchill bravely used both head and heart in stirring the nation to action and never shirked from delivering the difficult message together with the essential hope that a nation so desperately needed if they were ever to resist the imminent Nazi threat.

Churchill was certainly blessed with impressive oratorical skills but he was still plagued by private self-doubt. The difference was that he found the courage to defy the doubters and lead his nation when it seemed that all hope was lost.

In a world of ever increasing conformity one begins to wonder where our next daring leaders will emerge from when the threats to our future are so much more complex than a simple “us vs them” narrative. Instead of following the path of least resistance, we need leaders who are willing to speak with an authentic voice; and that will only emerge when they are brave enough to quieten their own self-critical voices, listen in silence, and find their personal truth even when the answers they hear may be difficult to speak.

It’s that kind of heroic commitment to action which inspires an audience to believe in themselves when all the evidence seems to be to the contrary.

Perhaps there’s a sleeping hero in all of us just waiting to be roused and a stirring speech is sometimes all it takes to transform us from timid mice to roaring lions. That’s the power of an authentic voice and we need more of them in the world if we’re to meet the challenges that are in danger of being left to our descendants. They won’t thank us for shirking the responsibility, something that was never done in the darkest hours of 1940.