Leadership Study Guide for The Darkest Hour

Darkest-Hour-One-Sheet-600x888I may have to go back and update some of my previous posts on best leadership movies, because The Darkest Hour just bumped the others off the the top spot. It doesn’t require special ability to note leadership lessons in Churchill’s life, so not much is original here, but perhaps the questions in this blog post can be a tool to be intentional about drawing out some of those lessons. In the spirit of Invictus, my most popular post, I offer The Darkest Hour study guide. It’s designed for personal or group reflection after watching the movie.

We learn the most about Churchill from his wife, Clementine. Their interactions as a couple reveal the truth about Churchill as a man much more three-dimensional than the legend most have come to know. Consider these questions about the Churchills and then reflect on how they apply to you.

  • Consider the various scenes in which Clementine appears. How does she view him—realistically or with rose-colored glasses? What specific traits does she appreciate about him?
  • What does she appeal to in Winston to get him to do what others can’t?

The takeaway quote is this one: “These inner battles have actually trained you for this very moment. You are strong because you are imperfect, you are wise because you have doubts.”

  • How do your doubts, weaknesses and imperfections give your leadership strength?

Later the king asks, “Are you not afraid?” Churchill admits, “Most terribly.”

  • Do followers expect their leaders to be fearless, or is that an unattainable standard leaders expect of themselves?
  • In what ways does the “fearless leader” myth hold back potential leaders?
  • How much should a leader let on about his/her own doubts? What are the risks and benefits?

From biographies, we know that one of the first things Churchill does as Prime Minister is to get a realistic assessment of the state of the war. In the film, his War Room depicts the dire state of the British forces. And yet he portrays to the public something very different.

  • What steps does Churchill take to get brutally honest information for himself?
  • What is the challenge in communicating to the public the state of the war? Do you agree or disagree with his choice to lie to the public? Why?
  • What is the line between optimism and inspiration versus honesty? What might have happened had he done it differently?
  • Clementine makes an interesting point about truth: “The truth will have its time.” In the film, when is the time for truth? Are the people ready by then?

The early days of Churchill’s time in office are extremely fragile, requiring great courage.

  • What is his relationship with the king? How does that relationship change over time, and what factors account for the change?
  • Why does he surround himself with a War Cabinet of rivals? What power do Chamberlain and Halifax utilize against him?
  • How does Churchill find the leverage to break the opposition and gain the political ground to lead effectively?
  • What would courageous leadership look like in your context—with superiors, with rivals and colleagues, and with direct reports?

Churchill struggles with whether his leadership position requires him to consider all possibilities, including entering into negotiations.

  • When does focus and principled leadership become myopic and stubborn to the point of blindness? Is it an abdication of leadership to cave on the one point that got you into your position? Why do you think Churchill concludes, “Those who never change their mind never change anything”?
  • What is the difference between leading others with a clear vision and looking at the people around you, asking their opinions and seeking out the voice of the people? Is that simply following, or is that also a form of leadership?
  • Which factor/whose support most influences his decision to never surrender? The king’s or the people?
  • In what ways does Churchill manipulate the various voices to influence the War Cabinet?

There are a lot of other directions you could take in a film discussion, from exploring the shifting nature of Churchill’s reliance on his secretary… to assessing the tradeoffs that come with leadership… to evaluating Chamberlain’s leadership from the back row. If you come up with any other questions or topics of discussion, post them here so we can all benefit.

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Recipe for Vegan Canadian Citizenship Surprise Party Cake

Maple-Walnut-Cake-7-copyHusbands, we’ve all been there. That moment when your wife is doing so well with a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet and she’s about to get sworn in as a Canadian citizen. You want to do something special to mark the occasion that speaks to her in her love language and fits within the diet. Husbands, this simple recipe will walk you through the process step-by-step to assure an amazing cake and complete surprise. Wives, you can simply follow the instructions at https://avirtualvegan.com/maple-walnut-cake/

Stage 1, one week before: Prepare and plan
□ Ask your wife’s best friend—who got her hooked on this Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet in the first place—to bake her a cake.
□ When she is not able to do it, ask her to recommend a recipe. You made a cake seven years ago, and isn’t baking like riding a bike? The skills all come back when you try it again?
□ Look down the recipe to see if your wife has all the ingredients.
□ Find a time when your wife is out of the kitchen to verify that she has sweet potato. Because she’s following a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet, your fridge resembles a jungle, but your suspicions are confirmed when you find a bowl with already-cooked sweet potato, and it looks like you could steal 1.5 cups of it without her getting too suspicious, “Because I was hungry, and it looked good.”
□ When you see an ingredient you don’t recognize, find a way to work “spelt flour” into conversation with your wife and confirm that she doesn’t have it.
□ Ask your wife’s best friend what you can substitute for spelt flour. When she gives you two equally-obscure flours available from your community natural foods store, decide that you will just use some of the flour your wife already has.
□ Note that the one remaining missing ingredient—coconut milk—isn’t needed until the icing. Come up with a plan to buy said ingredient and make the icing on another day. Read small print carefully, noting with satisfaction the requirement that coconut milk needs to be chilled for 12 hours before making.
□ Plan surprise party together with your executive assistant as co-conspirator.
□ Book off the day of the Citizenship Ceremony as a comp day.

Stage 2, two days before: Make the cake
□ Find a way to work from home on the day your wife always goes swimming in late morning. Get your team on board with your plan in case you need to interrupt a meeting on short notice.
□ When your wife gets busy with homeschooling your daughter and decides not to go swimming on a Wednesday for the first time in six months, disinterestedly encourage her to go out anyway to run the few errands she needed to add “while she was out.”
□ As soon as your wife is out of the house, end your teleconference abruptly. Preheat the oven, grease 8” pans and start whipping up the dry ingredients, paying special attention to baking powder versus baking soda and teaspoon versus tablespoon. Note: do not get out aromatic ingredients like apple cider vinegar and vanilla extract yet, as your wife has excellent olfactory abilities.
□ When she calls to say that she forgot her purse at home and needs to come back for it, offer thanks for the extra twenty minutes her mistake will give you while expressing appropriate empathy for her frustrations. Immediately hide the 8” pans, mixing bowl and ingredients in cupboards and turn off the oven. Ask your daughter to have the purse ready by the door so your wife doesn’t come in and see whatever evidence you missed.
□ Offer to brew your wife a fresh cup of coffee when she gets back if she’ll text you to give you a heads up.
□ Preheat oven and mix wet ingredients. Gain new appreciation for your wife’s frustrations that the hand mixer doesn’t really have a low speed.
□ Wipe sweet potato evidence off the counters, floor and back splash.
□ Finish recipe and put cake pans in oven. Don’t forget to set the timer.
□ Hand wash and dry all dishes, measuring cups and mixing blades. Inspect the kitchen for evidence, and then go back to work until the timer beeps.
□ Try the toothpick test in multiple places on both cakes just to be sure they’re done. Put cakes on cooling racks for ten minutes and figure out a plan to get the amazing smell out of the kitchen.
□ When your wife texts you to say she’s on her her way home—halfway through the ten minutes—rush the cakes and cooling racks downstairs and lock them in your son’s bedroom. Work with your daughter to open every window and door, even though it’s -20 C outside. Grind fresh-roasted coffee. Spray aromas in the air. Station your daughter to watch for her return.
□ Hand your wife her coffee when she comes in the door, so she’s smelling it rather than anything else that might be in the air.

Stage 2b, two hours later:
□ Don’t forget the two cakes in your son’s bedroom. Put them in a large Tupperware that was apparently designed to carry cakes. When your son gets home, alert him to the reason for the amazing smell in his bedroom.
□ Find a time when your wife is out of the kitchen to repack the bottom shelf of the fridge to put the oversized Tupperware cake carrier into the back, using the jungle to obscure it.
□ While you’re out for an appointment that afternoon, run by a drug store and buy a can of coconut milk, which is even on sale! God is smiling on you. Hide it in the back of the fridge.

Stage 3, one day before: Ice the cake
□ Before your wife wakes up, put the cake, dry ingredients, can of coconut milk and hand mixer in your car to take to the office.
□ When she asks why the mixing blades are sitting on the counter, do your best to blame it on one of your kids.
□ Place cake and coconut milk in office fridge. Do not forget to label them clearly.
□ Stop work early to mix the icing.
□ Open can of coconut milk. Look at small print in recipe carefully to figure out how on earth you got the wrong kind of coconut milk. Note that a drug store probably isn’t the best place to buy specialty items for vegan recipes.
□ Bring all ingredients home with you. Swing by a grocery store and buy a far more expensive can of coconut milk that specifically says that it needs to be mixed well because the cream hardens.
□ When your wife is out of the kitchen, rearrange the fridge again to hide the cake and coconut milk in the back.
□ Call someone on your team who lives in your neighbourhood to arrange for her to take the cake into the office in the morning if you leave it on her porch in the morning. Suggest a plan for her to finish the cake with store-bought icing if your plan doesn’t work.
□ Make a plan for getting to the Citizenship Ceremony, mentioning you need to drop by the office on the way home to pick up something you forgot to bring home for the weekend.
□ Set an alarm but lower your volume almost to indistinguishable and hide your phone under your pillow.

Stage 3b, 4:30am the morning of:
□ Well before your wife wakes up early for her citizenship appointment, wake up to mix the ingredients.
□ Open the can and offer a prayer of thanks when you find you bought the right kind of coconut milk.
□ Take the ingredients and hand mixer to the uninsulated garage, taking care to not open the back door too quickly or close it too firmly, knowing the air pressure makes all the bedroom doors rattle. Make some space on your work bench and carefully mix the icing while maintaining sanitary conditions.
□ Bring everything back in the house and ice the cake. Put back in Tupperware.
□ Clean up all evidence in the kitchen and garage.
□ Drive cake gingerly to colleague’s house and leave cake and extra icing on her front porch, offering thanks that -25 C will keep coconut-milk-based-icing from melting off the cake.
□ Send your colleague an email with last-minute instructions for the cake.
□ Have coffee ready when your wife wakes up.

If you follow these detailed instructions to the letter, you will achieve complete surprise. You’ll have a great time with her at the swearing-in Citizenship Ceremony. All you have to do is drag your reluctant wife out of the car when you get to the office so all those colleagues waiting for her can celebrate her and enjoy the cake you hope worked out okay. It’s a complete success.

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