I’ve just finished reading the First World War diaries of Margot Asquith, the wife of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith.
One thing I thought interesting was her response to accusations that Asquith, whose Cabinet was packed with strong personalities such Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, and Lord Kitchener, was not a strong enough leader:
“If you ride certain horses with big bits they run away. What is it that keeps horses of that type from running amok? Light hands – that is what Henry [Asquith] has got, the lightest hands in the world. In consequence he is adored. You put a ‘firmer’ man to keep men like Winston, Lloyd George and the rest in their places, and he would not remain PM 2 weeks, or get the best out of any of them.”
I think this is interesting because we talk a lot about moving away from having dominant, charasmatic leaders and towards having leaders that empower people.
We – or at least I! – tend to think of this as a new idea. But this shows that the value of “light hands” has been recognised for at least 100 years.
Another lesson I took about from Margot Asquith’s diaries was how the Asquith’s image as being detached not fully committed to winning the War (one of the reasons for his downfall) was at odds with reality. In fact, the War deeply affected him and, ultimately, wore him down.
Everyone knows that a big part of leadership is being passionate about what you’re trying to achieve. But Asquith is a reminder that it’s not enough just to be passionate about something – you have to make the people around you know about it.