10 Far-out Charismatic Leaders (and the Trouble They Caused)

Winston Churchill
Prime Minister Winston Churchill, photographed at 10 Downing Street wearing his trademark bowtie and holding his usual cigar. Cecil Beaton/IWM via Getty Images

Bombastic, energetic and decisive, Sir Winston Churchill loomed larger than life. The son of a British man and an American woman, Churchill was an average student. But he had a gift for inspiring people to follow him, and he never backed down when he thought he was right. He entered politics as a young man, and rose through the ranks to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924, the highest governmental post in Britain after prime minister [source: Lewis].

Britain was largely pacifist in the 1920s and '30s while Churchill was more hawkish, feeling a war was looming with the rise of Germany's Nazi Party. This caused him to frequently butt heads with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and others. But in 1940 -- with Britain now enmeshed in World War II -- Churchill became prime minister. And that's when people really began to rally behind him. During the war, Churchill delivered numerous inspirational and uplifting speeches to the Allied Forces around the world and to British citizens. One of his more notable lines was uttered on June 18, 1940, when France was in the process of surrendering to Hitler, leaving Britain to face Germany alone: "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'"[source: Lewis].

To ensure people linked Churchill the man with his words, he made himself easily identifiable in photos and the ubiquitous political cartoons of the day, adopting numerous "trademarks," such as his hat, cane, cigar and bow tie [sources: Lewis, Roberts].

Interestingly, while Churchill was a beloved figure to the public, he was fairly rude and harsh to his staff. His staff members did love him, but it was because of his role as leader -- not because he was a warm, fuzzy guy [source: Roberts]. In 1945, Britain and its allies won World War II. Churchill was defeated in the post-war election but became prime minister again from 1951 to 1955.