What Managers Can Learn From Churchill and Roosevelt

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

People often ask me how they influence people when their only option is e-mail and phone. And I say, “If they are important to your success, get on a plane.” I then get a litany of all the reasons why that’s impossible. Too busy is the big reason. Others always nod knowingly, like they are all way too important and busy to actually travel.

Last week the offices of Prime Minister Blair and President Bush announced that they would be meeting for the twenty-second time. Clearly, they see the importance of their relationship. I was reminded of two others who held those same positions many years ago. During World War II, Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt met face-to-face for a total of 113 days. They both knew that the future of their countries depended on their ability to work together. (They had only met once prior to the war and that brief meting took place in 1918. Churchill couldn’t recall the meeting. Roosevelt remembered Churchill as “a stinker.”)

They needed to be able to talk to each other candidly, listen and ponder with interest – and wire services and phone calls probably could never build that bridge. Meeting together involved great risk for them and their countries. The Atlantic was a dangerous ocean during the war. And yet, they took the chance nine times. If our success demands that those people trust us– and that we trust them – then getting together may be essential to building those bonds.