Margaret Thatcher's Leadership Lessons

We are in London this week, focusing on client and team meetings. This is the replacement trip for the one that was canceled in March.

We are in London this week, focusing on client and team meetings. This is the replacement trip for the one that was canceled in March. Spring has arrived and the first four days have seen fabulous weather, but I trust that the rain and wind will catch up with us, starting today. I am hoping that the sun will return for our Saturday visit to Cambridge with John and Alison Lee.

Last evening, we joined the Lee’s at the theatre for Helen Mirren’s tour de force in The Audience, by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry. There are ongoing discussions about bringing Dame Helen and The Audience to Broadway, where I believe it would be applauded as well. The play offers insights into the unique weekly private meetings with the 12 British Prime Ministers that Queen Elizabeth II has held during her 60-year reign. They start with Winston Churchill and close with the current occupant of 10 Downing Street, David Cameron.

With Margaret Thatcher’s death last month, I had begun to reflect on her leadership strengths and what made her stand out amongst her peers. Her tenure of 11 years was not without controversy. In her obituary in the New York Times on April 8th, it was written: “Mrs. Thatcher was the first woman to become prime minister of Britain and the first to lead a major Western power in modern times. Hard-driving and hardheaded, she led her Conservative Party to three straight election wins and held office for 11 years – May 1979 to November 1990 – longer than any other British politician in the 20th century…But by the time she left office, the principles known as Thatcherism – the belief that economic freedom and individual liberty are interdependent, that personal responsibility and hard work are the only ways to national prosperity, and that the free-market democracies must stand firm against aggression – had won many disciples. Even some of her strongest critics accorded her a grudging respect.”

She was able to turn around a nation that had seen its fortunes decline since the end of World War II, which had taken a tremendous toll on the country. Great Britain, once again, became competitive on the world stage. “After she gave a hard-line speech in 1976, the Soviet press gave her a sobriquet of which she was proud: the Iron Lady.” (NY Times, April 8, 2013)

I believe that one of Margaret Thatcher’s leadership lessons for those of us engaged in global commerce, is to choose wisely our themes and then make certain that your entire team can recite them with great belief and passion. What is unique about your products and services that will enable your client’s enterprise to be successful? This cannot be a long list of the latest flavors of the day, but must be a concise list of benefits that drives your company. These points of distinction, delivered over a reasonable period of time by an entire global team, will distinguish one’s company from its competitors. They, in the end, will establish a spirit of trust in one’s clients that you are working to make them successful.

Margaret Thatcher and her kindred spirit, President Ronald Reagan, “the Great Communicator,” both understood this better than most of our leaders during the 20th century. This allowed them to deliver on their visions and for both countries to achieve turnarounds in their fortunes that are unmatched today.