The Top 5 Leadership Lessons Margaret Thatcher Taught Us
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher is being laid to rest this week, and I can’t help but remember all of the valuable lessons she taught us. She was a part of our Greatest Generation – a generation that faced enormous obstacles like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, the depression and the spread of communism. She was a part of a generation that was asked to sacrifice, asked to pull one’s own weight, asked to stand up for what you believe in.
We’ve lost a lot of what pulls people together in hardship. It’s been replaced by a Baby Boomer generation that seems to always be asking, “What’s in it for me?” Boomers are overseeing the decline in public education, the increase in political divisions, and the reluctance to criticize anyone who may be subtracting from society. You’ll never hear Boomer leaders utter the phrase, “personal accountability”. All problems are someone else’s fault. For most of them, the mirror is never pointed at them – instead it reflects an idealism that would be possible to obtain if only it wasn’t being blocked by this group or that establishment – indeed a boogie man.
I think we can all agree that’s an untenable situation.
So much of today’s discussions about leadership are being driven by PHDs, MBAs, and JDs with agendas and books to sell. It’s a competition to see who can one up the other and it has become so noisy that it’s difficult to follow any of it anymore. Yet Thatcher’s advice stands the test of time. She championed it and she proved that it worked. The following is her best advice:
1. “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
What happened to the ‘speak softly carry a big stick leader’? Why do so many of our political and business leaders need to throw their weight around? Thatcher showed that strong leadership can be demonstrated and not promoted like some circus side show.
2. “Everything is fine until you run out of everybody’s else’s money.”
While we’re taking from productive companies and people and giving it to the less productive – what signals are we sending our young people? Don’t work hard or your rewards will be taken away? Or, don’t worry about making a living; society will take care of you? In a period where 47 million people are on food stamps and an enormous government debt, the future isn’t looking so bright for our younger generations.
3. “Ronnie and I got to know each other at a time when we were both in Opposition, and when a good many people intended to keep us there. They failed, and the conservative 1980s were the result. But in a certain sense, we remained an opposition, we were never the establishment. As Ron once put it: the nine most dangerous words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ As usual, he was right.”
While government is a necessity, government is the least efficient body to get almost anything done. To rely on government to take care of your needs is a futile pursuit, chased by those who have never had to rely on it. It is no coincidence that the phrase, ‘as efficient as a government’ has never appeared in any known language. As insiders, Thatcher like Reagan, understood this best and instructed people to rely on themselves and not some faceless government.
4. “I am not a consensus politician. I’m a conviction politician.”
Wholly missing from today’s political and social landscapes, but fortunately still in existence in the world of business (Marrisa Mayer and Jeff Bezos come to mind), we are often too governed by politically correct nonsense that does far more harm than good. What we need are more leaders that stand up for what’s right, and like Thatcher will tell us what we may not want to hear.
5. “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing.”
One of the things I fear most about today’s generation of political leaders — is that they are compromising on doing what’s right in order to avoid rocking the boat. To be liked and acquire votes rather than lay a stronger foundation for our kids. What we have in these people are a whole lot of doubt, and the drop of conviction that’s left there is alarming. Thatcher taught us that if you set out to do what’s right, even if unpopular, history will remember the end result and not the discontent at the time.
I am optimistic that our next generation of leaders will, as Thatcher did, come into power at a time when we need them most. When she came into power in 1979, most of the developed world faced long gas lines, high interest rates, and a chilling cold war. But I am concerned that our future leaders will be stripped of conviction and discouraged to act all on account of the politically correct, group think being perpetuated by special interests and those with hidden agendas.
We’re raising a generation of kids that are being taught that to judge is bad, to have conviction is arrogant and that if you speak your mind on anything other than the politically norm set by special interests and a complicit media – you’ll be stigmatized.
That can’t be good for any of us.