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Queen Elizabeth II - Three Leadership Lessons From the “Ultimate Feminist”

“She’s the one on our coins and banknotes. She fixed cars in the Second World War. She insisted on driving a king who came from a country where women weren’t allowed to drive. She’s no shrinking violet.”

This is how Olivia Colman described Queen Elizabeth II in 2019. She played The Queen for two seasons on Netflix’s The Crown.

Colman also regarded the “extraordinary woman” as the “ultimate feminist”.

During her 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth oversaw dramatic cultural, political, and technological changes. She was a steadying presence throughout - a rarity when most leaders and CEOs spend no more than a couple of years at the helm. During her reign, 14 British Prime Ministers came and went. She met the 15th, Liz Truss, only briefly.

Even during the recent Covid pandemic, Queen Elizabeth offered a comforting presence. On 5th April 2020, she gave a rare video speech addressing a world reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. She conveyed hope and courage as scientists raced to find a vaccine. Much of the public remained in lockdown.

"We will succeed, and that success will belong to every one of us," she said from Windsor Castle. "We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return."

Here are three leadership lessons Queen Elizabeth II taught the world.

#1: Serve to Lead

On her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth addressed the nation through radio and shared her vision with the world. “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service...”

Her vision and purpose would later shine through in everything she did, whether it was opening parliament, entertaining presidents, or greeting community leaders.

“Queen Elizabeth II lived her purpose with constancy from the moment she was coronated,” says Anna Eliatamby, editor of Healthy Leadership and Organisations. “She may have made mistakes, but these did not deflect her from devotion to her purpose...”

The Queen’s leadership style is best summed up by the motto of military academy Sandhurst: serve to lead.

“Leadership is an act of service – serving the people you lead and serving the purpose that you are collectively working towards,”

explains Neil Jurd OBE, author of The Leadership Book.

"In this leadership style, the focus is outwards, on others and on the objective.”

Jurd highlights how the Queen dedicated her life to serving others, ever since she trained as a truck mechanic during World War Two.

“She was still working 30 years after state retirement age.”

Just weeks before she passed, the Queen’s schedule was packed with official correspondence and formal engagements.

Serving others was her life’s work.

#2: Lead by Example

The Queen may have been destined to lead.

According to a Swedish study, firstborns may have more favourable personality traits than their later-born siblings, including openness to new experiences, extroversion, and greater emotional stability. As a result, they’re more likely to become leaders.

There’s no denying The Queen used her soft power to great effect.

In 1965, twenty years after World War II, The Queen visited West Germany to symbolise a new chapter in the decades-long process to reconcile Britain and Germany. More than a million people were said to have lined the streets to welcome her.

She continued the mission to reunite the continent throughout her reign. During a visit to Germany in 2015, she gave a notable speech in which she said:

"We know that we must work hard to maintain the benefits of the postwar world. We know the division in Europe is dangerous and that we must guard against it in the west, as well as in the east, of our continent..."

Years later, in June 2012, The Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness. The four-second handshake with the former IRA leader signalled change after 40 years of troubled Irish history.

The Queen used symbols to lead from the front.

#3: Be Open to Change

Queen Elizabeth challenged societal norms.

In 1952, women’s roles were overwhelmingly domestic, and they were discouraged from working outside the home. This is especially true of married women with children. Most of the women who worked during World War II surrendered those jobs to the returning men.

Then a 25-year-old working mother and wife becomes Queen of England.

The societal role of woman is one of many views Queen Elizabeth would challenge.

In 2001, to honor the lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, The Queen broke protocol — and 600 years of tradition — by allowing her royal guards to play the US national anthem in front of Buckingham Palace the next day.

When it comes to technological change, The Queen was also a leader. She insisted that her 1953 coronation be televised, despite objections from Winston Churchill, and she was one of the first heads of state to send an email.

There were bumps along the way. Notably, following the news of Lady Diana’s, The Queen refused to leave Balmoral and fly to London for the funeral. She was criticised at the time, but it later transpired she wanted to support her grandsons after the tragic accident.

As King Charles III added in his first sovereign speech,

“The affection, admiration and respect she inspired became the hallmark of her reign… She combined these qualities with warmth, humour, and an unerring ability always to see the best in people.”

By listening to her advisers, The Queen continued to enjoy the highest approval rating (75%) of any British monarch that ever lived.

Final Words

Queen Elizabeth served her country with dignity and grace. She was a soft-spoken leader, and inspired countless leaders and countries around the world to do better.

"People don’t change that much, but they recognize those people whose commitment has been constant,"

Princess Anne said in a recent interview about her mother.

"I think that’s a remarkable skill - to know what the true values are and stick with those. To not worry too much about the things, the fashions, the things that come and go, and to understand what the bedrock of society is…”

At HVO Search, we wanted to pay our respects to this remarkable woman, mother, and leader.

May she rest in peace.

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