On Monday, April 8, 2013, we lost a truly remarkable lady and leader. Before there was Condi or Hillary, there was a woman who could stand up to men and lead their country to greatness. To paraphrase Churchill, I would say Prime Minister Thatcher was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. When Prime Minister Thatcher spoke, the world listened. After the she left the world stage we heard very little from her again. She was a paradoxical leader at a time when world freedom was at stake. She was a conservative feminist. She chose to lead in difficult times. What can we learn from this unique woman who helped create the world we live in today?
There are three key strategies that all leaders can learn from Margaret Thatcher. The first strategy is be careful who you align yourself with and then, once aligned, give it your all. She came into power at a time when modern women were just beginning to understand how they could change the world. Before she met President Reagan, she was reluctant to commit to his plans. Lifetime English diplomats warned her away from recommitting to the alliance between our two countries. They told her that this new president was a cowboy and truly out of his depth with being on a world stage. She was told the United States was on the decline and this could present her country with an opportunity to become the preeminent power again. So what did Thatcher do? She chose to meet with this new president to see who he really was. After meeting with him, she understood there was more opportunity in working together than to try going it alone. The partnership between the Reagan and Thatcher increased the world’s safety and created an even stronger relationship between our two countries than existed in the past. One based on trust and equality. It ultimately helped bring down the Iron Curtain without firing a shoot.
The second strategy we can learn from Prime Minister Thatcher is to be true to yourself and your strengths. She once said, “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” She surrounded herself with brilliant people and would often seek their advice. However, once she got the advice, she didn’t shy away from making the decision herself. She then expected her people to fall in line. She was a strong leader because she understood that some decisions cannot be made by committee. She reminds me of President Truman in this way. He was known for having many advisors, but always felt that a true leader was there to make the tough decisions not just the easy ones. Both of these leaders were part of the country’s political establishment, but upon taking office, they chose to make the right decisions for their country, not their political party. The both had a flair for tough language earning Prime Minister Thatcher the nickname Iron lady.
The final strategy that we can take from Prime Minister Thatcher is be who you are not who others tell you to be. My favorite quote from Lady Thatcher was “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Now how does this relate to you as a serving leader? I think it’s the essence of serving leadership. When I work with different leaders, I look for clues to who they are, not only in what they say, but what they do. It’s easy to be nice when you’re in front of a camera, it’s what you do behind the camera that reveals who you really are. In the case of Prime Minister Thatcher, she understood the role she played for many younger women. She did not shy away from it and she helped create a generation of women who are ready to take on the world with their own gifts and strengths. She saw nothing wrong with being a conservative and a feminist. She once said “If you want something said, ask a man; If you want something done ask a woman.” She strongly believed that the world was a better place with strong women, not because of weak men. So, rest in peace, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Thank you for providing us with a great model of a strong, serving leader.