Overcoming Failure – Winston Churchill’s Example

Posted by on August 27, 2012

Perseverance Part 6

By Craig Wilson


Overcoming failure – this is a hard topic, but extremely important if we are to achieve our ultimate goals. First of all, we ALL fail in our lives. Many times the obstacles placed in our path overwhelm us and defeat us, other times we just don’t apply ourselves for whatever the reason is. How we respond to failure will determine our ultimate success, or lack of success.

A great example of responding positively to failure was shown by Winston Churchill and the British people during “The Battle of Britain” in 1940. In May of 1940 Churchill was named Prime Minister Just as Hitler’s forces were over running France. Britain had its entire armed forces (over 300,000) fighting against the “blitzkrieg”. As the French surrendered, the British scrambled to evacuate its troops from Dunkirk back to England. They had to leave their armaments behind in the haste of the evacuation.

1st Step – Honest Assessment

Churchill’s first important step to dealing with this defeat is a great lesson for all of us – he honestly assessed it. While the London Daily Mirror called it “The Miracle of Dunkirk,” Churchill described more accurately saying, “We have suffered a catastrophic defeat.” 1

2nd Step – Refocus on the Goal

His second important step in overcoming failure was to then refocus on the goal – defeating Hitler. He told Parliament: “We have but one aim, and one single irrevocable
purpose. We are resolved to destroy Hitler and every vestige of the Nazi regime. From this nothing will turn us – nothing. We will never parley, we will never negotiate…We will never surrender.” 1

Now the Nazis turned their attention to Britain and the battle was on. The odds were clearly against the British. An inventory of their armaments by General William Donovan showed the following:

The defenders share a total of 786 field guns, 167 anti-tank guns, and 259 inadequate tanks, enough for two divisions against the forty German divisions waiting across the Channel. There are just over a thousand pilots left in the RAF, shredded by the meat-grinding air attacks… The loss of destroyers in evacuating the troops from Dunkirk leaves the navy in no shape to stop an invasion. 1

Churchill added that the available rifle ammunition provided one bullet for every 2,000 German soldiers committed to the invasion. 1

3rd Step – Know Your Strengths and Use Them

Having assessed their weaknesses, Churchill then used a third key element in moving from failure to success. He strategized with his military leaders over how to best use their advantages. They had radar which the Germans did not. They used this to determine real attacks from feints and ignored the feints. Their fighter planes were faster than the German planes. The German planes came from a great distance and had limited fuel. Finally, the British intelligence had cracked the German’s encrypted code “Enigma” enabling them to be able to decipher their messages.

4th Step – Think Positively – Speak Positively

Finally, Churchill used his rhetoric to persuade all of Britain that they could be victorious. Here are a few:

  • Never, never, never, give up.
  • A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.
  • Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.
  • Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.
  • Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.
  • If you are going through hell, keep going.
  • Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Incidentally, Britain won.

Here are two of Churchill’s famous speeches:

If you ever get a chance, visit the War Rooms in London. There’s a nondescript entry right behind 10 Downing Street. Once inside you’ll feel the weight of how history was in the balance in those basement rooms.


1: A Man Called Intrepid, William Stevenson, 1976 The Lyons Press

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