Lessons from Alan Turing’s secret letter to Winston Churchill

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On the 21st of October, 1941, Alan Turing and three of his station ex-colleagues wrote a secret letter to Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  Alan Turing was a leading participant in the breaking of German ciphers at Bletchley Park during World War II. He had decided to tackle the particularly difficult problem of decoding the German naval Enigma. The key content of the letter were as follows:

“Dear Prime Minister,

Some weeks ago you paid us the honour of a visit, and we believe that you regard our work as important. You will have seen that (…) we have been well supplied with the  ’bombes’ for the breaking of the German Enigma codes. We think, however, that you ought to know that this work is being held up, and in some cases is not being done at all, principally because we cannot get sufficient staff to deal with it.”

Winston Churchill after reading the letter made sure that the flow of bombes* was speeded up, the staff bottlenecks were relieved, and the team was able to devote themselves uninterruptedly to the business in hand. Turing and his team were able to decode Enigma which ultimately helped the allies to win the war. Some researchers also suggest that decoding the Enigma helped to shorten the war by 2 years.

The idea of using the story is to highlight the importance of listening. Listening is perhaps the most important skill-set for being a good leader. You can improve your ability to lead effectively by learning the skills for active listening. Here are some really interesting facts about listening:

Active listening involves paying attention, withholding judgment, reflecting, clarifying, summarizing and sharing.  Be a good listener to become a better leader. Be a good listener and as a leader, you will realize what Alan Turing’s quote really meant.

“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”

*The bombe was an electromechanical device used by British cryptologists to help decipher German Enigma-machine-encrypted secret messages during World War II.

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