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4 Thatcher Lessons for Business Leaders

It’s been interesting to read the radically diverse opinions re. Thatcher’s era and legacy. Never have I seen an episode in journalism that most demonstrated the saying ‘There are two sides to every story, and then there’s the Truth’. Perspective, obviously, is everything.

For myself, I’ve been considering how Thatcher’s leadership of the government at the time – in turning around a failing country (economically at least) – provides a model for leadership in business. For that is how she approached it – as a business that needed rescuing.

Identity

Thatcher clearly had a strong sense of the UK’s identity – based on its history and ideals of aspiration, courage and hard work.  In the same way, a business needs a clear identity in the market – knowing what it stands for. The challenge is in creating an identity that all people within the business can relate to – and in this regard Thatcher failed to bring the whole country together behind her own ideas of what it meant to be British.

Leaders need to be flexible in creating an identity that all parts of the organisation can relate and subscribe to –  or they risk alienation when they appear to reject core beliefs and values that are intrinsic to sub-groups.

Vision

A strong vision for the future is another element of leadership that Thatcher demonstrated, but again it was a future that appealed to some but not all. If a leader doesn’t bring the collective together behind the vision then it will always be fragmented and at risk. Those ‘alienated’ and left behind because they don’t share the hope and optimism for the future are left in a void that they themselves have to fill – leading to subsets of communities and groups who are then naturally seen as outsiders.

Smart leaders have strategies for how to engage with different groups – accepting their version of the vision and seeking dialogue to find common ground.

Communication & Collaboration ME WE_Are One

Thatcher knew what her strengths were and played to them – a strong and quick mind, strong decision-making together with a polished and articulate manner became synonymous with her leadership style. But there were other aspects of communication that she appears not to have developed- to her detriment. Both in her failure to truly listen to the message underlying the protests, and towards the end of her reign (some would say regime), she seemed incapable of bringing together her own government – the ‘us and them’ mentality had invaded her inner circle – a disaster for any leader.

The ability to listen – truly listen – to people across an organisation, industry and market, and bypass the filter of bias is an invaluable leadership skill. And the capacity to work with people who don’t necessarily share your viewpoint, is at the heart of collaboration.

Community

Possibly the most written-about aspect of her government over the last few days, and despite loyal supporters saying to the contrary, Thatcher was all about ‘I’ not ‘we’. In that the rhetoric and policy was geared towards the individual having a right to success and material wealth, without proper and full exploration of how that individual success could translate into collective and community wealth. I’m not qualified to comment on the political aspect of her dealing with the unions and the stranglehold they seemed to have had over the country, but I do believe that the financial state of our economy today has been exasperated by her individualistic ideology. Yes people need to be responsible for their own lives and fulfilment, but not to the detriment of the wider group.

A leader has a responsibility to think of the whole as well as the individuals within it – they are never separate.

I’m sure there are many more parallels that could be drawn – it’s far from the whole story (e.g. I haven’t taken into account her global contribution). But in this new era of business, in which transparency, collaboration, shared values and collective vision are being called for – these four lessons are at the heart of leadership today. I’d love to hear any others you’d care to share – either in the comments below or here on Facebook.

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