The news yesterday of the passing of Margaret Thatcher left me with really strong conflicts of emotion, on one hand it brought back memories of times in my home town which was severely affected by her ideological crusade; on the other a view that sometimes leaders have to do things which will lead to inevitable conflict, seemingly for the greater good. My own very family and friends who also had their own prejudices marched to the tune of a very different ideological drum. They in fact handed her the very sledgehammers to knock down their own industries and send them to oblivion sealing the fate of their respective futures. It really is a sad indictment of how we as human beings at all levels can be so short sighted at times.
But in the context of leadership we can learn some very good lessons from the events of her time in public life.
The development of strategy to allow working families to purchase their council (commission) houses was a masterstroke and by stealth broke union power in bringing out their members on the flip of a coin; now union members had more to lose. Her strategic abilities were very strong and her belief in pressing ahead regardless hence the famous quotation “The lady is not for turning”.
Leadership is about making judgement calls some you get right and others n fail.. Margaret Thatcher judged the mood of the country over the coalminers and she got it right, people were tired of conflict, strikes by the trade union movement and sided with her.
It is about balancing your decisions but sometimes admitting you are wrong, not to be candid in the eyes of voters or staff members that can be seen as arrogant, taking extreme positions which leads to division, she created the conditions in cabinet and in the general population to allow that to flourish. The deep divide amongst the south of the country (which did well under this period) and the industrial heartland of the north (whose industries were wiped out) and has never been totally reconciled, she really undertook the tactics of guerrilla warfare to relight a class war. The successful leader tries everything in his or her power to bring people together (our own political parties should take note).
Belligerence can only be used as a short term weapon whether in politics or business, it effectiveness will eventually wane, certainly today we have seen it will not be tolerated and it has been said, he or she who lives by the sword dies by the sword, it is not a leadership strategy to be contemplated without very good reason although Margaret Thatcher wore belligerence as a badge of honour and used it very effectively throughout her career both home and abroad.
Sometimes a leader or manager needs to understand when to leave the stage, Mrs Thatcher undoubtedly had a blind spot in this area, almost having to be removed kicking and screaming from office, such conviction was to be admired. It has echoes of the demise of that other famous leader Winston Churchill who suffered the same fate even though previously he was to almost considered a demy-god
In conclusion strong leadership can be warranted but must be used wisely; I suspect the debate about Dame Margaret Thatcher’s legacy has just begun.