One of the most extraordinary political leaders of our lifetime is Margaret Thatcher, and the new film The Iron Lady provides a wonderful opportunity for her to inspire a new generation of conservative leaders around the world.
The typical college student today was born after the Reagan presidency, and was too young to remember the leadership Mrs. Thatcher provided Great Britain during a truly critical time in that nation’s history.
As a former College Republican leader myself, I’ve seen firsthand how tomorrow’s political leaders are drawn from the ranks of today’s campus political groups. And often the transformation from young leader to government or party official happens very quickly. In my own life, I was only out of college for eight years when I became the leader of the Republican Party of San Diego County, one of the largest counties in America.
Margaret Thatcher embodies a long list of traits that are critical in a leader, and The Iron Lady conveys many of those traits masterfully.
As someone who grew up during the Reagan/Thatcher era, I found the film certainly met my expectations for revisiting some of the most important events of the Thatcher years, including her economic program, confronting creeping socialism and the country’s trade unions, terrorism, and aggression in the form of the Argentine invasion of the Falklands.
The film’s most pleasant surprise was the way in which it subtly yet effectively conveyed several of the leadership traits and philosophies that made Thatcher successful.
Leadership vs. consensus building. Thatcher rose to power in part because the Conservative government in which she served as Education Minister was paralyzed in the face of massive strikes, rioting, and overall paralysis. One of Thatcher’s most memorable quotes was, “Leadership is the antithesis of consensus building,” and although the quote is not featured in the film, the message is clear: in times of crisis, people demand leaders, not facilitators.
Doing something vs. being someone. The best leaders, by far, are those who yearn to accomplish something, not merely attain office for the purpose of gaining a title or gaining the perks of office. Ideas matter, and Thatcher’s career, dominated by big ideas, demonstrated it. For her, serving as the Conservative party leader and Prime Minister was about implementing big ideas to benefit the nation.
Bold colors vs. pale pastels. While this term is one Ronald Reagan popularized, it is one which his British counterpart understood innately. Thatcher did not propose tinkering with the status quo or “managing the decline of a great power.” She put forth bold ideas, risking being called a “radical,” knowing her ideas were the right one for the country. While timid members of her government could be seen buckling at the first sign of Thatcher’s drop in popularity earlier in her term, Thatcher embodied the strength needed to see her program through. Despite low approval ratings while her program took time to work, Thatcher went on to become Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th century.
Positive, forward-looking leadership. Even in her downfall there is a lesson to be learned. Thatcher’s career was defined by offering a positive, forward-looking alternative to the liberal status quo of creeping socialism at home and weakness abroad. Her downfall, at the hands of her own party, was caused in part by too much berating and not enough positive encouragement for her own team, powerfully conveyed in the film in a scene where she blasted a key cabinet member for a seemingly minor offense. Positive and forward looking are traits which help a leader do their job.
The most valuable lessons in leadership are learned outside of the classroom. For today’s teenage, college, and young Republicans, The Iron Lady is highly recommended as an opportunity to learn from one of the last century’s finest leaders. For those of us who are a bit older, the film offers us a glipse back into the events that shaped the modern world.