Thoughts on the passing of Margaret Thatcher

Thoughts on the passing of Margaret Thatcher

This week, I had intended to continue along the line of my previous post, about the debate around working from home, but I have to admit being distracted by the death of the Iron Lady, by the magnitude and fervor of the world’s reaction to it.

Reading the British press, both online and in every imported copy I could find at the local paper shop in the French Alps, kept me fascinated throughout the week. In fact, Margaret Thatcher’s passing reminded me of the unique passion she seems to elicit among Britons and to a lesser extent in the rest of the world too. I would be hard pressed to find another human being in my lifetime who has had such a polarizing effect so many people.

John Campbell, Thatcher’s biographer, summed things up nicely, describing her as “the most admired, most hated, most idolized and most vilified public figure of the second half of the 20th century”.

As I reflected on this woman’s divisive effect on the population, I vaguely recalled reading a Financial Times book review a few years ago, so I searched for it and read it again. It is a 2009 review of Richard Vinen’s Thatcher’s Britain . The reviewer praised the book for its fairness, calling it “level-headed and thoughtful in its judgments…dispassionate on a subject where objectivity is hard to find.”

I can remember being somewhat surprised at the observation that few people seem to be able to remain objective on the subject of Mrs. Thatcher. After all, I reasoned, it is not because I am a lifelong Boston Celtics fan that I cannot recognize the coaching genius of Phil Jackson, be awed by the prowess of Michael Jordan, or praise the character of Magic Johnson. They were members of rival “parties”, but I could nonetheless see their merits.

With Margaret Thatcher, though, there was never any middle ground. You were either with her or against her; you adored her or despised her. And judging from reader comments to obituaries in the UK press this week, the debate rages on.

To her supporters, she was a woman of true conviction, a great hero of modern times. She remade Britain, restored pride to the nation and transformed a moribund, softly socialist economy into a vigorous free market one that has outperformed the regulated economies of the rest of Europe.

For her detractors, the Iron Lady was an arrogant, unmoving and insensitive ideologue whose policies increased inequality, undermined Britain’s sense of solidarity and civic pride, and destroyed the university system. Her policies led directly to the financial crisis we are mired in today.

Sometimes, I can feel like one of the very few people who can retain some objectivity regarding the former prime minister. In the end, I am an admirer, but not so much for reasons of politics as for reasons of character. Margaret Thatcher had true vision and conviction, characteristics I rarely see in the public officials of today. As one reader commented on the FT’s website: “I would caution those who celebrate Mrs Thatcher’s passing today not to confuse her political views with her personal qualities. Any organization could benefit from having a leader as principled and gutsy as Margaret Thatcher was.”

I would have to agree. If I were part of any management team, I would certainly want a woman of her character and ability “on our side”.

With respect to my own work, Margaret Thatcher is the best example I have ever found of one of the core concepts of my leadership teaching and coaching: leading by autobiography.

Next week, I will discuss the Iron Lady’s remarkable use of personal storytelling.


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