The Queen was an iconic leader, steering the royal family and the UK through an era of unprecedented change. We explore the lessons that can be learnt from her example.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was this country’s longest serving monarch and one of the longest serving anywhere in the world. Coverage of her death and reign has largely suggested that she was an outstanding leader.
The monarch reigns at the pleasure of the people, so any significant and sustained republican sentiment would surely bring about abolition of the monarchy in our democratic system. The Queen lived with the knowledge of this reality and served with humility and respect for her ‘subjects’, dedicating herself to ‘a life of service’.
Is it reasonable to compare the Queen with ‘executive’ leaders such as politicians and business leaders, or is she better compared to Church or community leaders or celebrities who lead by influence, but with no ability to enforce their will?
If we look at the qualities that people have recognised in the Queen, they are those that inspire and set an example.
Leading by example
Throughout her reign, the Queen had a busy diary – you could argue that many of her duties were not arduous, but being ‘on parade’ at all times is not an experience many have. Being present, engaged, giving an encouraging word and remaining confidential and discrete are not always as easy as they seem.
Wisdom and knowledge
Former Prime Ministers have praised the Queen’s wisdom and knowledge. Starting with Sir Winston Churchill and ending with Liz Truss, with thirteen others in between, the Queen saw tremendous change and a reframing of values and priorities in society. Her ability to remain relevant was a quality that has been frequently commented on.
Knowing when to speak and when to be quiet shows keen judgement. The Queen was criticised for not reacting quickly when Princess Diana died, but when she did speak, she adapted to a new pattern of speaking to the nation at times of struggle. The Queen spoke reassuringly when Covid hit. Christmas broadcasts were a regular point of contact and the Queen used these to share in the concerns held by the general public, recognising those who were facing difficulties as well as being open about her own.
The Queen took advice when necessary and acted on it; she understood that as a leader you need expertise you can draw on.
During the 1990s, there were a number of dramatic events, starting with Windsor Castle burning down and including the divorce of three of her children following elaborate and costly weddings in the decades before. The Royal Family came under fire for its extravagance on buildings, transport and lifestyles, but the Queen maintained the ‘never complain, never explain’ mantra as much as she could, making adjustments to modernise quietly and as appropriate.
More recently the activities of Prince Andrew and the approach adopted by Prince Harry and his wife have caused further turmoil. The Queen was quick to act, in consultation with Princes Charles and William, by taking action to protect the reputation of the monarchy by removing royal duties and privileges. Commentators have said that interventions have been judged to be the right ones.
The Queen saw her role as a calling for life, not a job that she could retire from. Even after being widowed in her nineties the Queen kept working, slowing down as necessary but remaining in charge. It can’t have been easy for the Queen to remove roles and privileges from her son Andrew, but she saw the wider consequences of not doing so.
What can we learn?
Many have said that The Queen delivered a masterclass in leadership. Qualities such as hard work, teamwork, confidentiality, discretion, wisdom, knowledge, adaptability, encouragement, knowing when to speak and not complaining are very laudable. But how can we aspire to these when we have the pressures of business and the need to spin many plates?
There is no doubt that the Queen largely experienced good will, financial security and affection in a way that many leaders can only dream of. However, if we can work on the same qualities that the Queen is remembered for, our organisations will definitely be better places.
The CIPD has a raft of resources that address what leadership is and how to be an effective leader, highlighting many qualities embodied by the Queen, such as self-awareness and skilful expression, the ability to inspire and motivate, and a clear understanding of the job at hand.
Being an effective leader means uniting people and cultivating a strong team spirit. Also, as exemplified by the Queen, it includes the ability to lead the way through times of change. The help of an HR advisor can be invaluable in helping you navigate these challenges; you can view our employee engagement services here.
Just as the Queen inspired loyalty and devotion, an effective leader is able to inspire and motivate their team, helping to keep talent within the organisation. It’s vital to build a culture where people feel valued and want to stay around, and employee engagement is at the heart of this.
As an aside, next Monday (19th September) is a public holiday. For most full-time employees it is simply a matter of not working. For organisations that remain open, it may be necessary to grant a day off in lieu of the public holiday. For part-timers who do not work every day, the best way forward is to add an additional day to the combined total of annual leave and public holidays and apply the proportion of working days as appropriate eg. 80% for employees working four days a week.
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