What can we learn about leadership from the late great Queen Elizabeth ll?

Crowds lined the streets to honour this amazing Queen who has been in office for the last seventy years. So much has been said, so many affirmations given, so much respect; I want to add thoughts of leadership lessons I’ve read from the many who have loved, admired and been inspired by her. We cherish the memory of this truly great leader.

  1. Maintain calmness in the midst of change: The past seventy years have involved immense change in society, the ups and downs of fifteen prime ministers, turbulent times as a family and required the queen to stand strong as a secure anchor in the midst of the storms for the people of the UK and the Commonwealth.

    How do we handle change, stress and trauma in our leadership roles? With calmness or do we experience sleepless nights, anxious thoughts and become insecure as we seek to weave our way through the challenging journey of leadership? 

  2. Never complain, never explain: This has been a motto thought to originate from 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, subsequently adopted by the Queen’s late mother. It’s now held by the royal family as a principle. Of late, the Sussexes decided to go public with their complaints – that has not gone well. “The very lack of personal drama has arguably been the secret of Elizabeth II’s success,” says Tracy Borman. The Queen looked for what we could agree on and didn’t enter fights of opposing opinions.

    How do we deal with difficult issues as they arise? Are we found complaining, seeking to explain our way out of situations? Perhaps holding back some personal information is wise in this society where too much detail can be shared about our personal lives.

  3. An outstanding woman in leadership: Arianne Chernock says, “So much of what made Elizabeth an ideal constitutional monarch relies on traits or qualities that are very stereotypically feminine – the sense of being apolitical or even passive, reticent to intervene. All her feminine qualities served her well as monarch.” Interestingly there was a similar response to the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. It was not necessarily that people thought Victoria was such an amazing female leader. They considered she had been pliable, passive and much more willing than her son to adopt this purely ceremonial role.        

    How pliable are we in our leadership? Is there a sense of needing to give our opinions, of being in control, of letting everyone know who is the leader around here? It takes wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent, when to act and when to sit back.

  4. Leadership through influence: We often talk of the difference between authority and power. We have the illustration of a police officer stopping traffic on the road – they have authority but not necessarily power. A vehicle could easily run them down. Now if that police officer was driving a Sherman tank, he or she would have both authority and power. The government has both, but the Queen had authority only if we gave it to her. The bottom line she relied on, was influence. That waxed and waned over the years, but she finished her life with the nation recognising her incredible influence for good over these seventy years.

As leaders do we seek power and position? The Queen’s life reminds us that influence and example can be more enduring than power.  

  • Embrace both tradition and progress: As the new King Charles III said in his first speech as king, “In Queen Elizabeth’s life of service we saw that abiding love of tradition, together with that fearless embrace of progress, which makes us great as nations.”He was echoing his mother’s first Christmas address as queen in 1952, when she said, “Many grave problems and difficulties confront us all, but with a new faith in the old and splendid beliefs given us by our forefathers, and the strength to venture beyond the safeties of the past, I know we shall be worthy of our duty.” She embodied that strength.        

    As leaders, we are well advised to carry the three dimensions of past, present and future. Jeff Fountain encourages us to be, “Rooted in the past and focused on the future, in order to be effectively engaged in the present.” We so often want to throw out the old to press on to the new. But wisdom says learn from the past, understand your history then you can move on with wisdom and insight into the future.

  • Create a circle leadership: Behind any key role of leadership there are many people in the team who bring their wisdom and giftings to support and enable the leader to function. The Queen was no different and built a reliable, loyal and gifted team of advisors and workers, plus she shared her role with other members of the Royal Family.

We are very short-sighted as leaders if we think we can ‘go it alone.’ We all need a team. And not just yes men and women but people who will share their real opinions and be listened to by us.

  • Calling, Character and Commitment: In a speech made on her 21st birthday, the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) pledged her commitment to duty in these memorable words: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.” She lived with a sense of calling and purpose over her life, remaining true to it through thick and thin, becoming a leadership model of a queen who served.      

    Do we as leaders serve our people? Is that what they would say of us? It takes a depth of character to stay committed for the long haul, to follow through on long days of administration and relating with dignitaries from the nations of the world, always being gracious, welcoming and maintaining the royal protocol!       

  • Find time to do what you love: The Queen maintained a role of public relations and had a schedule that made us feel tired just looking at it. However, her hobbies are well known to us as well. She managed her diary to enjoy spending time with her corgis, visiting her horses and connecting with family.

For any leader, one of the challenges is to balance personal life, family and work. How is that going for you? You make time for the things you really want to do. So, think through your priorities and make sure you create the space in the calendar to do them.

‘It is hard to think of a better embodiment of the leadership values all business leaders should aspire to: consistency, reliability and a constant presence all could depend on.’ –  Sam Gordon

Until next month


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