Leadership Lessons from Elizabeth and Winston


I have become obsessed with the modern monarchy – Queen Elizabeth II specifically – and more recently, with Winston Churchill. Both are viewed as iconic figures of history that have faced challenges with courage, vigor and a love of country. But what about their leadership styles? What qualities and aspects of being an effective leader can we learn from them? Here are a few to consider:

Communicate early and often: Even before he became Prime Minister, Winston Churchill was a prolific writer, valued speech and had a love of language. He knew the importance of communicating with the country, both in writing and in his addresses to the nation, and placed great importance on words and their meaning. The Queen has also mastered the art of communications and uses it often to connect with the public. It is said she has answered more than three and a half million pieces of correspondence during her reign. Good communications builds bridges and human connections, a valuable lesson for all leaders.

Keep calm and carry on: Steering a country through a World War has to be the ultimate test, and Churchill’s ability to focus and concentrate is legendary. Certainly mercurial, he was able to stay relaxed and calm yet completely zeroing in on what he was doing. You might say he knew how to be in the “zone” or “flow”. The Queen has been a steady rock of stability through chaotic and turbulent times, displaying a grace and presence that are qualities any leader might want to emulate. A good and strong leader can show strength and a calm presence when everything is collapsing around them.

Display courage: “Never give in – never, never, never, never” is Churchill’s famous quote that has stood the test of time and is often cited as a symbol of his courage. Certainly guiding England through WW II takes enough courage for a lifetime, as does sitting as the head of a monarchy for more than 60 years.  Both Churchill and the Queen have had the courage to do the right thing, stand up for their principles and values, be ready for failure and get up the next morning and do it all over again. Leaders have the courage of their convictions, know they will make mistakes and learn how to learn from them.

Live life with passion: Much has been written about Churchill’s exuberance and his ability to enjoy himself. He was a dedicated man, but also infused his work and life with creativity (writing, painting), music, vacations and family. In today’s work culture, it might be called work/life balance. The Queen has been dedicated to her family and to the people of England, passionate about horses, her corgis and her role as Queen. Leaders today are able to comingle the personal with the professional to the benefit of both.  Cultivate hobbies and interests that you are passionate about, spend time thinking/doing/planning getaways, trips and time with those you love and care about.

Prepare for the top: Elizabeth II was the third in line for the throne when circumstances made her queen at the age of 25. Here’s how the Queen has described leadership:  “I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.” Prepare for the top, and learn what it takes to assume the responsibilities of the role.

Embrace change: Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 was broadcast – at her insistence – and Prime Minister Winston Churchill tried to talk her out of it. She is rumored to also be the first head of state to use email. She has embraced social media (@RoyalFamily) and now has 2.65 million Twitter followers.  As queen, she is in a very traditional role, yet has adapted to the multicultural and global world and changing role of the monarchy. Successful leaders must know how to adapt both to circumstances and culture, and update skill sets along the way.

Practice optimism: Even in his darkest days – and there were many – Churchill had a “can do” attitude.  He seldom ended his wartime speeches without a note of optimism. “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” said Churchill. Queen Elizabeth II has many times lifted up the spirits of the people of Britain with her words of condolence, understanding and hopefulness about the future.

These leadership lessons are not only born of history, but will stand the test of time for the future.

Claudia Keith is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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