Winchester and the follies of Leadership

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

– Lao Tzu , Chinese philosopher, 6th century BC


The quiz master asks, “Where did the famous Winchester rifles originate from?”

“Winchester of course!” I quip back.

The Quizmaster gives me a quizzical look.


 As I land at London Heathrow and take the coach to Winchester, I recall the above incident. Traveling through the beautiful English countryside of Hampshire, I reach the town.


The coach stops in the city centre with the statue of King Alfred the Great visible in the distance. Winchester’s claim to fame began during the Roman times and indeed became a Roman province with defensive walls all around. But it was during the Anglo- Saxon times that it reached its zenith and the cross shaped Saxon street plan as laid out by King Alfred can be seen even today.



I was there to meet up with Stanley, the owner of a Management Consulting company. As I stepped into his office, Stan introduced me to Nick, his protégé and the current CEO of the firm. We got down to discussing a joint venture proposal in the UK for which I had sought the services of Stanley’s company. But the discussions never could take off. Every time I would seek advice and Nick would start off on possible options, I found Stan interrupting him.

“That surely could be one of the ways to proceed,” he would say, “but it might work better if you….” and then he would veer off into a rambling story off how it had worked for him many years back in a different context. As Nick, after a while, tried to get back to what he had been saying, he would be interrupted almost immediately by Stan who would again take the discussion into yet another of his personal success stories.

As the outsider, I seemed to be stranded in the middle. As the discussions flowed more around than with me, I quickly realised that we were not going anywhere with our main agenda.

As I walked away from failed negotiations on the JV, scarcely noticing the old medieval city walls, I pondered. Why do Business leaders like Stan have this intrinsic need to win, even against their own? Is it a deep down insecurity about one’s insufficiency to handle a world and environment that has changed? Could such insufficiency be making Stan avoid the right focus and seek refuge and comfort of past glories? Does Stan realise that such frequent “peeping over the shoulder” approach, though well meaning, could in fact be fast reducing Nick’s commitment to the organisation?


 And so I come back to the question of where the Winchester rifles come from.

Well, the rifles had their origin across the Atlantic when, just before the American civil war, a certain Oliver Winchester had the vision to buy out a bankrupt gun company in New Haven, Connecticut. The repeater rifle he redesigned was a huge success with the Union army and, after the war, the company became renamed as “The Winchester Repeating Arms Company.” So path breaking and visionary was the design that it earned the nickname of “The Gun that won the West.” For almost a century thereafter, the Winchester name remained synonymous with vision and success. It was in the 1960s that the company chose to forget what had made it successful in the first place, refused to embrace technology changes and in fact did faulty redesigning of its firearms. It was downhill thereafter till the company was split up and sold off in 1980.

As I muse over the Rise and Fall of Winchester Guns, I see its parallel in the mindset of Business leaders like Stan. As they build a company through vision and change, somewhere along that long and arduous road, such leaders choose to get stuck to their own perceived ‘success recipe’. This attachment veers them away from all that which made them successful in the past. An attachment which leads to a refusal to acknowledge a changing future and the possibilities it brings. A refusal which pushes business away, as it did my proposal.

In Learning…………………….                                                Shakti Ghosal

Author: Shakti Ghosal

* A PCC Credentialed Leadership Coach. * A qualified engineer and a PGDM (Faculty Gold medalist) from IIM Bangalore. * More than three decades of industry experience spanning Engineering, Maintenance, Projects, Consumer durables, Supply Chains, Aviation and Tourism in the Gulf region and India. * Top level management positions to drive business development, strategy, alliances all around the globe. * A visiting faculty at the IIMs. *A passion to envision trends & disseminate Leadership incubation globally. * . +91 - 9051787576

92 thoughts on “Winchester and the follies of Leadership”

  1. You were very kind to Stan.

    Found myself in a similar situation once and called for time out – to use the toilet. When I returned, I apologised that I had received a call on my cellphone and had to cut short our meeting to attend to something urgent. I was the client, they were the service provider – I called the shots, they agreed.

    Subsequently, I called ‘Nick’ to meet me at my hotel – making clear that I wanted to see him alone.

    The ‘Nick’ in my episode got the hint – and when we met, he apologised for my wasted morning. We did the deal.

    I did enjoy meeting the old man – the ‘Stan’ in my episode – over cocktails, and learned much from him and about him.

    1. Hi Eric,

      Loved the way you handled the situation. Well done! I guess it all comes down to the power of one’s intentions and the possibilities one sees in the moment.In my story I had considered it prudent not to push but rather move out as I could not foresee a “win-win” situation, which to me, is the bedrock of any successful partnership.



  2. Love the quote, the photos of lovely Winchester, and the story abut the Winchester.
    The comments were compulsive reading!
    And all the time my heart went out to poor old Stan! I remember reading somewhere that anything that is not unconditional love, is a cry for unconditional love.
    Stan struck me as someone stuck in his childhood, desperate for approval ( love), and trying to keep his end up with these younger cleverer people. He had no odea what he was doing, for we are all unconscious of our stuff until we’re ready to deal with it, and until then, we are often our own worst enemy.
    I remember reading about a man coming late to a spiritual gathering, clattering in, dropping his brief case, pushing past people to his seat, oblivious of the noise and disturbance which he was causing. When he sat down,the spiritual teacher on the stage looked across to him, and smiled.’ I love you’ she said.
    He burst into tears, and so did a lot of other people. His noise, lateness, obliviousness were all a cry for love…
    This is how I felt when I read about Stan.

    1. Thank you Valerie for your presence here and your very considered comment.

      Truthfully speaking, I would never have dreamt of the explanation that Stan’s behaviour was a “cry for Love”. But the way you have put it does make sense and I need to acknowledge you for bringing this new line of thought into our discussions. Well, I suppose what Stan was really seeking was an acknowledgement of who he was, an aspect which might have been getting increasingly threatened by new ways and thinking which his CEO would have been trying to bring in.



  3. These are great questions about Stan and our inherent humanness. Ideally, we need to keep evolving in order to progress. To do that, we need to look at things in different ways, realize we can all learn from each other, and try to be more community oriented rather than so individualistic. If Stan had put others ahead of himself, he would have taken the time to listen. We need to put more emphasis on listening to each other.

    1. Hi Sheila,

      Great thoughts. I particularly liked when you said, “If Stan had put others ahead of himself, he would have taken the time to listen. We need to put more emphasis on listening to each other”. So much of the world’s issues could be resolved if great listening skills could be more widely used.

      Thank you for the comment, I appreciate you Sheila.


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      Winchester and the follies of Leadership

  4. Great article. You don’t have to be a business major to understand one concept…you move forward or you die. No one except the Amish are selling horse-drawn buggies any more. I saw wood burning cook stoves when I was little and they were relics of an ancient past (thirty or forty years prior) even then. Would anyone go into battle with an army of musket sharp-shooters? Idle thinking is backwards thinking.

    Again, great article.


    1. Hi Tim,

      You are so right. As the Red Queen says to Alice in Through the Looking Glass, ” To remain at the same place here, you would need to keep running.” This remains so true in the business environment, specially with fast changing technologies and processes as you have illustrated.

      Thank you.


  5. Hi Shakti,
    Your post reminds so much of what is wrong with so many British companies. I´m sure it´s the same the world over, but my experience of business has been mainly in Britain.

    The Winchester rifle story has many parallels with the British motor industry in the 1960s. Especially the motorbike industry, in which Britain was a world leader after WW2.

    With a complete lack of imagination, investment and innovation, the bosses manage to destroy it in about a decade.

    The dearth of creativity the nearer one gets to the top in some companies is appalling. The most creative are seen as a threat by those far less creative striving to get to the very top. They make it their business to stifle talent, and succeed far too often.

    Having said that, there are plenty of British companies that encourage new talent, but they are usually smaller, and far more flexible because they have to be. Big is certainly nor best in my eyes, and biggest has come to mean complacent, greedy and out to destroy, rather than compete.

  6. Shakti, You had me at your first words. What a great piece. Really wonderful 🙂 (& love the photos)

  7. What a brilliant analogy! I think you nailed it accurately, “Is it a deep down insecurity about one’s insufficiency to handle a world and environment that has changed? Could such insufficiency be making Stan avoid the right focus and seek refuge and comfort of past glories?”

    The world is changing, just like everything that lives, from cells to all sorts of relationships. Those resistant to change, whether from insecurity or downright stubbornness will be left behind in the dust, for things are moving so quickly these days that if we try and stem the tide, we will get washed away in a flood. At least that’s how I see it.

    1. Hi Bela,

      I totally agree. I suppose it all boils down to the need in each one of us to attach ourselves to the known even though it may no longer serve.

      I appreciate you.


  8. We see this happening with business all the time, don’t we.

    On a light note, you might find this interesting. The demise of the Winchesters …

    The house has some stunning aspects to it and beautiful gardens.

  9. First thing First loved your write up Shakti, wonderfully engaging and oh haven’t we all met Stan at some or many points in our life.. 🙂
    loved how you knitted both the history of Winchester Rifles and the incident together..Clever writing

    1. Soma,

      Coming from a superbly accomplished writer like you, such an acknowledgement makes my day. So thank you. Yes, we do meet Stan in his many avatars as it has to do with a deep aspect of human behaviour, that of attachment.

      I appreciate you passing by and commenting.


  10. Shakti,

    Very impressed with your work thus far. I truly love the quote at the beginning. . .unfortunately I feel our leader in the US is not that kind of leader.

    I enjoyed reading this blog post about Winchester.


  11. Sorry to hear of your failed business discussions… As I don’t know of Stanley nor met him in person, I would like to reserve the right to not make judgement. However, I would say that I’m glad you are ‘In Learning…’ as you put it and embracing the experience rather than becoming thrashing it to the side without thought or in frustration. I suppose it could merely be the fact a you come in as an unknown quantity, he creates anxiety in another. An extra voice and opinion in the room takes away power and influence (some at least) from another.

    1. That is a great perspective which I had not thought of to be frank. As I think of what you say, I realise that introducing an “unknown” element into someone’s orderly (placid?) existence is sure to bring in anxiety and turbulence. I suppose this could have been a reason for the failure of our discussions.

      And yes, I strive to “see” experiences as great learning opportunities. Failure of any kind can and should be embraced as it is reality and to fight that is futile. At the moment we experience failure, how could we shift ourselves to ask, “Where do we go from here” ?


  12. Great post. I enjoyed reading about Stan’s interruptions and your analysis of the whole thing. Very progressive as one must be in today’ s world. Very beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing a lovely post and pictures with us.
    P.S Stan’s interruptions reminded me of my mother in law.

      1. Sorry for the late reply. Your beautiful post has already helped me. My philosophy in dealing with her is “total surrender”. Some things one cannot change. It has worked. I am becoming her blue eyed daughter in law. Thanks.

  13. I didn’t know this about the Winchester. They’ve been a long popular choice among sportsmen here in America. Learning about the roots is interesting. And your travel pictures are wonderful.

  14. Wonderful posting and photo’s Shakti, I hope your visit to my country for a time was an enjoyable experience.. apart from the failed negotiations.. and the ‘Repeated’ interruptions of Stan.. Shame how many fail to see how their own repeated interruptions are nothing less than sounding off their own successes and has been stated here are insecurities… For they often only want to cling to that which is tested.. and not move with the times…

    I recently caught myself doing the exact same thing.. In my line of Support work we hold a Team meeting once a month, and I caught myself saying How I used to do this and that in my last employment team.. and then promptly shut up… As what I did or didn’t do was of no value to the present team… But my ego got the better of me.. for that moment!!…

    I am not ashamed to admit it… I am human, but the difference being, I knew from where it came and saw as you did as the outsider .. And your post has re-enforced my own deduction as to why I voiced my opinion as I did.. because I was feeling insecure within my Team… and needed to feel important and knowledgeable..
    Our Human side often makes me smile.. as do the synchronisities which come to humble us .

    Many thanks for this, and for you wonderful comment upon my post ~Sue

    1. Hi Sue,

      You always make my day, don’t you 🙂 What an astute and wonderful comment ( as always!).

      What jumps out at me from your comment is the need for us to be conscious. Conscious of what we say, we do, we think in the moment. Conscious of what serves and what does not in the moment. Do you realise that you have the gift of holding this consciousness which 90% of humanity do not? Do you see how blessed you are? So why this feeling of being ashamed I wonder?

      ” Our Human side often makes me smile.. as do the synchronisities which come to humble us .” What lovely awareness this!

      Blessings and have a wonderful day.


  15. I used to say to employees, “My job includes supporting those who want to replace me.”

    To me, Shakti, Stan is threatened and fearful. And I agree with you, surely Nick is looking for a way out. If he isn’t, than perhaps Stan is actually protecting Nick…

    A free webinar for men is being offered by Sai Maa. I don’t know if you would even be interested, but I’ll share the link:

    Feel feel to not accept this comment, Shakti – OR delete the part about the webinar. As you wish – I will respect your choice.

    1. Hi Amy,

      As you empowered your staff in the manner you describe, clearly you had become the best leader you could be. I need to acknowledge you for this.

      Yes, your understanding of Stan’s behaviour seems to be spot on.

      Thank you for the link to Sai Ma’s webinar. I appreciate you! So why do I sense this hesitation in pointing me in the direction?



  16. You did a very great writing about Winchester Shakti ,What a great contribution for entire blogosphere my friend 🙂

  17. There are so many Stans in this world who are to wrapped up on themselves that they no longer see the bright potentials in others nor see where the future is heading. If I’m the employee, I will start finding a place where I can grow and my voice will be heard. I wish you all the best in all that you. The story you just shared is something we all at one point experience in our very own workplace of not so long ago. I work now in a place where I feel I matter. May not be the best paying but it makes me feel that I count.

  18. Shakti, my husband Dave and I were talking about leadership just this weekend. We went to a wedding where several former employees told Dave how much they appreciated the help he gave them to hone their craft and the start they had in the business because of him. I’m seen bosses who are so afraid that someone else might get credit for something that they sabotage an employee’s success. What they fail to realize is when their employee grows, the boss looks stronger. People believe the boss is exercising great leadership skills when the employee has grown as that employee now is a greater value to the company. Some bosses just don’t get that.

    1. Hi Judy,

      You are so right. So what is at the core of this insecurity that the boss has relating to the growth of his employee? Is this an insecurity relating to within himself or what the outside world might perceive?


      1. I believe the boss’ insecurity comes from within. If he was secure about his place at work, he would not fear someone gaining and surpassing him. He would realize his status increases as his employee(s) gain more knowledge and skills. He looks smarter because his staff is.

    1. A joint venture to be successful requires the meeting of minds and intentions. That is the only way ownership and the eventual success for the proposal gets created. So I guess, what happened, happened for the best.

      Thanks for passing by.


  19. A fantastic, interesting history about the Winchester riffle . I´m interested in history, so i like your post very much . New knowledge is never heavy to carry . // Maria

  20. Nice post, quite insightful. The corporate structure is the main problem. Selfishness has always been a problem, therefore, corporations need to realize the greatest good of the greatest number.

    1. Hi Ramu,

      I tend to agree. More than the structure, I feel it is the Corporate values which create issues and frequently manifest as selfishness, non-ethical behaviour and thinking etc. In your view, Ramu, what needs to change in the way business is done and the Management performance is rated for the realisation of the “greatest good for the greatest numbers” to happen?

      Thank you for commenting, I truly appreciate.


      1. Since you have asked me a question, I’m obliged to answer. I think, Managers and top executives need to learn to give back to society instead of stacking their money in banks and the so called ‘tax haven’.

        Thus, Social Entrepreneurship needs to be given due importance. Employees need to be treated more humanely. In short, Businesses must care for all the stakeholders and not just for the shareholders.

      2. Dear Ramu,

        You have provided great thoughts regarding the way forward. “Learn to give back”, ‘treat employees humanely”, to me, are aspects of the need to shift perspective of how Businesses and their management view success. My problem remains with what needs to be done to trigger this shift. Any thoughts on that?

        Love this dialogue with you.


  21. The inability to let go is a problem we all face and spend precious years trying to master. Fascinating insight into the Winchester Shakthi. Had no idea about its origin either 🙂

    1. Hi Madhu,

      You are so right. It does get down to our inability to let go, isn’t it? But what is at the core of this attachment, this inability to let go? When I think of this aspect within me, I sense it arising from the comfort of “what I know”, the confidence of what served in the past. Below these aspects, I also see the insecurity relating to aspects which others seem to know more than me.

      Cheers and God bless.


  22. Hi Shakti, Not true, by definition the leader would not be . Take any Christ, Mohammad , Nanak , Krishna etc nor political ones like Gandhi, Washington et al. The problem is a true leader (may or may not want to be remembered but) doesn’t have to force people to remember them while a pretender like your’s would resort to chutiyapas as narrated . love sand

    Date: Thu, 2 May 2013 03:35:10 +0000 To:

    1. Hi Sanwal,

      Your comment makes me reflect…..

      The pretender however in this case happened to be the guy who had built the company in the first place.He was still the owner. My guess is that actions such as he displayed in my presence would not really not support folks remembering him. So what really made him behave in that manner?

      Thank you for commenting, I appreciate.


      1. Sorry for late respo.. ” would not really not support folks remembering him. ” a double negative , really, implying that it’d make folk remember for the wrong reasons !
        Remembering is for the object / objects of interaction not the perpetrator , and they are remembered for the outstanding works or thoughts, positive or negative.
        As to why this guy did it , maybe chilblains, Chablis, midlife crisis or just something to boost his ego at that time of merger implying dissolving of the dreams he put into making the company.


      2. Hi Sanwal,

        First, thank you taking the time to comment here. If I understand you, what you are saying is that a person would rather be remembered, even for the wrong reasons rather than not being remembered at all. Am I getting you right? I guess such an intrinsic need may exist in some folks and I would be curious to know what is at the core driving this. I am not sure though how this ties in with the post.

        As far as the “Why” part is concerned, I suppose it could have been something to do with Stan and his ego as you have stated. Though the JV proposal had nothing to do with dissolving his company.



      3. Hi Shak,
        The need is called ‘EGO’ and is manifest in all except maybe the GODs. Entire industries like cosmetics etc are built around this.

      4. Yes Sanwal , you are right. Most thoughts and actions do manifest from our EGO. But do you think, even the CREATOR is free of this? If that was so, why should there be set laws of life and the Universe? Could these not be the manisfestation of HIS ego?



      5. Dear Shak, Rules are to ensure survival of the created universe on a time line, imagine if the Sun were to change distance from planets randomly , without rules decay would be immediate.
        As for rules for God , there aren’t any , the great primordial SOUP is where all rules break down , and ergo no EGO.

      6. Yes Sanwal, I agree. The ultimate Law, or rule as you say,is the flattening of all energy peaks to become one and the same.

        As you hear the chants all around of “I AM THE ONE.”


      7. There is no chant of ‘ I AM THE ONE’ in fact there is no ‘ I ‘ and no chant, only calm, absolute, nothing moving calm , not even the flutter of toughts.

  23. Dear Shakti,

    “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

    Really ????? Utopian , but never possible.

    1. Hi Sanwal,

      Great to see you back here.

      The quote is what a Chinese philosopher mused two and a half thousand years back. So I guess it was a Utopian challenge then as it remains now. Can we term it as some kind of a gold standard which I would aspire to in a fully transparent, just and righteous environment? How many of us are willing to take the responsibility to create such an environment?



  24. Shaki, this really is an interesting article. And yes, it really does make you wonder. Although my response might appear to have nothing to do with what you have written, It is comprised of the first two things that came to mind after reading your article.

    My husband told me the other day how selfish I was (am). I asked him to discuss the “how” of my selfishness. He said that anytime that he is on the phone I interrupt him. The second thing that I thought about is a saying hear in the US that: It is the third generation in a family or company that ruins either the family or business. I am assuming that this means that the third generation is so spoiled and feels so entitled that the members pay attention to only themselves. Again selfishness. And yes, one would think that a person who had begun and run a successful company could get out of the way of its continued success. I wonder if this person’s initial vision and drive and selfishness that took him to the top isn’t also the same selfishness that is now going to destroy his company?

    P.S. I am no longer interrupting my husband’s phone calls. 😉

    1. Hi Liz,

      Your closing question really resonates and I quote it here.

      “I wonder if this person’s initial vision and drive and selfishness that took him to the top isn’t also the same selfishness that is now going to destroy his company?”

      This indeed is great insight. Yes, there needs to be a modicum of selfishness and drive in any entrepreneur to succeed in the imperfect world we are in. So as he and his company succeed, what does he need to do to sustain and prevent destruction of what he has created ? Does he consciously need to get detached ? This requires an inherent willingness to trust an outside structure and management style different from what he is used to. How does such a person make this leap of faith?

      I loved your comment, specially the fact that you have changed your thoughts and behaviour relating to your husband’s telephone calls. Well done!


      1. I agree. One who creates something of value (at work) needs to trust that it truly is of value and thus trust that others will value it. Then the creator of this valuable product can trust that in the hands of others, it will grow and add value.

        The wonderful thing about being willing to change is that you become new and in turn (my husband) wants to make changes too. It is all good.

      2. Hi Liz,

        Delighted to see this wonderful perspective. Indeed as we change, we do tend to have those people with us who are willing to change with us.

        Thank you.


  25. Ah….My great, great grandfather created the repeating rifle…I hope I got the number of greats right 🙂 I have never been proud of that legacy, to have created a gun that can kill faster than ever before. I will be so thankful when we move beyond the need to kill and oppress. Interesting that my legacy shall be to promote love and peace. Black sheep of the family I guess….Thanks my friend, hope all is well with you and spring is exploding for you there…..Blessings…VK

    1. Hi VK,

      Wow, that’s awesome! So are you a direct descendant of the Winchester family of Connecticut?

      Legacies tend to take different meanings during different times. What you perceive as a means to kill today might have seemed as a means to defend oneself from a hostile environment during that time. The fact that you are conscious of this is a great step forward.

      I reside in a land which has only two seasons, a hot summer and a not so hot winter. No spring or autumn here unfortunately.

      Thank you VK for your valuable presence here, I appreciate.


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