Margaret Thatcher - A Profile in Leadership

If there is one quality every organisation, business, and society at large desires to see at work, it is ‘leadership.’ The often used phrase: ‘leadership is the problem, leadership is the solution.’ Though we talk about it much, it is also becoming clear that leadership in its classic, effective state, is something we greatly lack in today. Where are the good time-tested qualities like conviction, courage, and common sense? A reasonable dose of ‘3C’ would do wonders in our increasingly complex and crisis-riddled world.

The Barna Group, in their April 19th 2013 email, made this statement about leadership:
...according to a new survey conducted by the Barna Group in conjunction with Brad Lomenick, president of the Catalyst conference, more than eight in ten (82%) Christian adults believe the United States is facing a crisis of leadership because there aren't enough leaders. Leadership seems to be one of those "if you see it, you know it" kind of qualities. And yet, it's something Americans desire, all the way from their immediate employer to their minister to their president.
I agree with the 82%. That’s why I took great interest in the passing of Margaret Thatcher on April 8, 2013 at the age of 87. In this remarkable woman we see that the 3C’s, along with vision, were in strong supply. Thatcher, indeed, was a towering figure in the 1980s, along with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. The impact of her leadership thirty years ago is still being felt today.
Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925, not of royal blood or of the British aristocracy, but as the daughter of a green-grocer. She experienced first hand how to run a small business. She gained a lot of common sense in the everyday issues of life. The words of Charles Dicken’s to Mr. Micawber guided her philosophy. ‘ know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result: happiness. annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result: misery.’  This kind of mindset would guide her in the days ahead.

Thatcher, leader of the Tory Party, was elected Prime Minister of Britain in May 1979. Her elevation to office had nothing to do with her gender or political correctness; indeed, one feminist lamented of Thatcher: ‘She’s a woman but she’s not a sister.’  Thatcher achieved high office the old-fashioned way: She earned it through hard work. Margaret Thatcher thought, spoke, and acted like a leader. You knew where she stood and where she was going. This was her consistent stance for the eleven years she was Prime Minister.

At the time of her election, Britain was a mere shell of its former imperial glory. Morale was low, the
economy moribund, and society was choking on inefficiency, bureaucracy, and waste. A conviction, not convenience, politician, Thatcher wasted no time in implementing much needed reforms. She shrunk the role of government, restrained its spending, tamed the union movement, privatized government services, liberalized stock exchange rules, and restored trust in the private sector. London is still considered a financial capital to this day. As she herself said,  I came to office with one deliberate intent: To change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society - from a give-it-to-me, to a do-it-yourself nation. A get-up-and-go, instead of a sit-back-and-wait-for-it Britain.’ That’s conviction.

Along with Margaret Thatcher’s 3C’s, we need to add a fourth: Christian. What is less known about Margaret Thatcher was her Christian convictions. She was raised as a Methodist. Much of her philosophy of life was derived from her Christian worldview.

Thatcher had a mixed record when it came to Britain’s relationship with Europe and what would evolve into the European Union. She supported Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community in 1973 and signed the Single European Act in 1986. Yet she was resolutely against any further erosion of British sovereignty. As she said, ‘We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels.’

Thatcher only became a euro-sceptic near the end of her term. She opposed Britain’s entry into the European Monetary Union, which would have replaced the pound sterling with the euro. In light of the eurozone crisis today, her opposition now appears to have been most prudent. Common sense prevailed again.

In addition to her common sense and conviction was Thatcher’s courage. She refused to accept Argentine aggression in the April 1982 seizure of the Falkland Islands. By principle, she said this land grab should not be rewarded. What was not well-known at the time was that Britain’s victory was by no means assured. It had not fought a full-blown conflict since the end of the Second World War. There were setbacks, including, the loss of life on both sides. Yet eventually Britain prevailed and Thatcher, whom the Soviets dubbed derisively ‘The Iron Lady,’ had truly lived up to her title. For her, ‘The Iron Lady’ became a badge of honour.

Her courage was also exhibited by her determination to soldier on after a 1984 near-assassination attempt by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the Grand Hotel in Brighton nearly took her life and that of her husband’s, Denis. She escaped death by a few metres and went on to serve Britain for another six years.

During this same period, she was resolute in the coal miner’s dispute. From her view, the government was running unprofitable mines and this had to stop. The dispute was bitter and lengthy, with much hardship on the miners and their families. Yet Thatcher believed it was for the betterment of the entire country and consistent with the rule of law. She prevailed.

What kind of legacy did Margaret Thatcher have? As the recent protests around Britain after her death prove, not just that she was controversial, but that she left her mark (by the way, these protests were planned many years ago and some participants were too young to remember Thatcher). Thus, the protests are about her legacy, not necessarily her person. The fact that Hollywood decided to spotlight Thatcher in the 2012 movie The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep, also show that Thatcher made a difference. Why would anyone bother to protest or make a movie about someone who never did anything or offended anyone?

While Thatcher’s critics say her policies harmed the poor, divided the nation, raised unemployment, and hindered the welfare state, supporters say that she reinvigorated a stagnant economy, defanged the unions, and caused Britain to be ‘Great’ again -- reassuming a leadership position as a world power. Thatcher teamed up with US President Ronald Reagan, assisted by the moral authority of Pope John Paul II, to help terminate the Soviet stranglehold on Eastern Europe (of interest, these men, like Thatcher, were both nearly assassinated in 1981). The stance of these 3 leaders helped to end the Cold War.

There’s more. While Britain has had some long-serving and thrice elected prime minister’s, only 20th Century Thatcher had the word ‘ism’ as a suffix to her name. ‘Thatcherism’ described her ideology: smaller government, privatisation, free markets, fiscal discipline, tight control of the money supply, tax cuts, Victorian values and nationalism. So strong was  Thatcherism that subsequent Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were described as ‘neo-Thatcherite.’ Tony Blair’s philosophy has even been called ‘Blatcherism.’

One source has said ‘No major political party in the UK, at present, is committed to reversing the Thatcher government’s reforms on the economy.’  Twenty-two years after leaving office, the protests, the movies, the endless commentaries, the tributes from around the world, and grand funeral on April 17th, all point to the fact that Margaret Thatcher was a revolutionary, even transformational leader. While others simply dream of greatness, Margaret Thatcher, through conviction, courage, and common sense, went on to achieve it.


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