Winston Churchill wasn’t perfect — he stumbled many times as Britain’s leader. But he used missteps to help him avoid errors in the future — making him a model of bouncing back.

Some of Churchill’s mistakes were major, too. In World War I, he led the disastrous campaign against Turkey. In World War II, he bungled the defense of Norway. And he thought the invasion of Italy would be easy. Churchill also underestimated the Japanese military.

“But Churchill learned from his mistakes, and put the lessons to good use,” wrote Andrew Roberts in “Churchill: Walking With Destiny.” “Set against his failures is a far longer and more important list of successes and he also learned from those.”

So despite Churchill’s many shortcomings and some flawed beliefs, he’s still a symbol of persistence. “Churchill … was incredibly persistent in the face of long odds and often took actions that were unpopular,” Margaret Heffernan, author of “Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future,” told Investor’s Business Daily. “He was also prepared to take real risks and did not flinch from making the big decisions.

Continuously Learn Like Winston Churchill

Churchill was born into the upper class in 1874. But he looked for inspiration in all directions.

His father was Lord Randolph. But his mother was Jennie Jerome, the daughter of an American businessman. And she contributed to her son’s lifelong unconventional thinking compared with others in the upper class.

Churchill got to know Americans better than most other British leaders. He spoke around the world, including in 28 U.S. states. And as he traveled, he learned. Just during 1940 through 1945, he covered 110,000 miles, mostly in ships that could be torpedoed or planes that risked being shot down.

He struggled early in school before barely passing an exam to get into a private school. And then, he was only accepted into a military college on his third try. He chose the academically less-demanding cavalry. “He despised school, was a contrarian and an outsider … and one of the greatest individualists of modern times,” wrote Roberts.

His mother encouraged wide-ranging reading. And that habit informed the six million words he would write in 72 volumes (more than Shakespeare and Dickens combined). History was his focus. “In history lies all the secrets of statecraft,” he said. “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.”

Churchill: Gain Diverse Hands-On Experience

Churchill served as a 2nd lieutenant and reported on the Spanish-American War in Cuba for a newspaper. He fought and reported in India, Egypt, the Sudan, and during the Second Boer War in South Africa. Captured there, he escaped, rejoined the army, and returned to Britain as a hero, writing a book about his experiences.

Churchill pulled insights from those experiences. And he prepared. He won a seat in the House of Commons in 1900 at 25. After serving in government to oversee the colonies, industrial relations, the police and prisons, he rose to first lord of the Admiralty in 1911.

His experience informed him to be concerned about Germany’s naval buildup. And to act. He increased production of everything from battleships and submarines to seaplanes. In 1914, he oversaw the landing of 120,000 troops in France. He assumed responsibility for Britain’s aerial defense plus the development of tanks.

In February 1915, Churchill was assigned to seize the Dardanelles straits near Constantinople (now Istanbul). The attempt failed. These losses cost the British and colonial troops 214,000 lives. Others were the primary architects of the campaign. But blame landed on Churchill. He resigned from the government.

Churchill needed to reboot. He joined the army and asked to be sent to the trenches of Belgium. There he commanded for three months and was nearly killed. Churchill returned to Britain and took charge of munitions production, talks to end the war in Ireland and the treasury.

Anticipate Crises And Prepare

Churchill prepared for what he thought was coming. He remained a member of Parliament. But out of government from 1929 to 1939, he focused on writing about history. He warned about the dangers of the rise of Communism and Nazism. Few listened. But after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in September 1939, Britain declared war. Churchill was reappointed to head the Admiralty.

The Royal Navy was the largest in the world. But much had changed since he held the top post in 1915. He was not content to stick with protecting convoys and blockading Germany. He added armor and anti-aircraft guns to old ships and upped production of new ones.

Germany overran Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. France teetered and Allied soldiers retreated to the coast. The king asked Churchill to become prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as Allied forces retreated to the coast.

“Churchill appointed himself minister of defense, accepting full control of the war and making seven key appointments,” wrote Erik Larson in “The Splendid and the Vile.” “A new energy … coursed through all bureaucratic strata, from the lowest secretary to the most senior minister.”

Inspire With Credible, Clear Communication

Churchill worked hard to overcome a lisp. Oration was key. And in his first speech as prime minister in the Commons in 1940, he inspired the British to resist, despite the odds. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat … What is our aim? It is victory, victory at all costs.”

He kept working at improving written lines and delivery. He drew on his reading about other world leaders who faced the possibility of defeat with courage. On June 4, the evacuation of 338,225 servicemen was completed at Dunkirk. Still, 120,000 remained and everyone expected an imminent invasion.

Churchill spoke to the Commons: “We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas … we shall fight with growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island … We shall fight on the beaches … on the landing grounds … in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

“Churchill demonstrated a striking trait: his knack for making people feel loftier, stronger, and, above all, more courageous,” wrote Larson.

Luftwaffe’s bombing prelude began the next day. And by the time, what was known as the Blitz was done on May 11, 1941, nearly 45,000 died. But morale and defenses remained strong. Although occasional raids would continue until March 1945, German forces focused on what they thought was a softer target: the Soviet Union.

Work Hard to Court Allies Like Churchill

Winning allies isn’t easy when you’re asking for sacrifice. But Churchill found a way.

In 1939, a Gallup poll reported 93% of Americans opposed a declaration of war against Germany. Churchill understood getting U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt around the law that enforced isolationism would be tough. But they came up with creative means, such as “lending” ships and supplies.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, galvanized American public opinion. Churchill addressed Congress on Dec. 26, 1941 saying: “To me, the best tidings of all is that the United States, united as never before, have drawn the sword for freedom.”

Roosevelt died in April 1945, a month before Germany surrendered. And Harry Truman succeeded him as president. Japan surrendered in August. But Churchill’s refusal to accept defeat led to a better world, even with all the mistakes.

Winston Churchill’s Keys

  • Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1940 to 1945 and 1951 to 1955.
  • Overcame: Failure as first lord of the Admiralty during World War I.
  • Lesson: Take responsibility for mistakes and take action to improve performance. “This is not a time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.