A Look at the Bones of Leadership… With The Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher.  This name means different things to different people.  Some vilify her for her uncompromising approach. Others praise her for the same reason.

Whatever side of the fence you may fall with respect to Mrs Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister of Great Britain, there is one indisputable truth.  Margaret Thatcher was a leader.

If you gather that the subject of this post began with a trip to the movies, you would be right.  Meryl Streep’s riveting performance in The Iron Lady has indeed given rise to my curiosity and deeper thought about what lies in the bones of leadership

There are four things that come to mind

Abiding Purpose

Margaret Thatcher was driven by an abiding purpose to preserve the British way of life and restore its reputation on the world stage.  All else came in a distant second.  For many, how she went about fulfilling that purpose remains the source of great controversy.  Some people, who were negatively and personally affected by her decisions, may never forgive her for the change she brought to their lives.  Others will hold her up without hesitation as Britain’s savior at a time of great turmoil and indecision.  Regardless of the perspective, Mrs Thatcher seems to have always known what she was there to do and why it was important to do it.


The courage required of a world leader, like Margaret Thatcher is the kind of courage that compelled her to stand up in the face of great opposition and fight for what she believed.  Sometimes she fought alone.  But, she did it anyway because it was important and because as leader, it was her job to take risks and make decisions others shrank from.


The bigger the job the more exposed is the leader.  When you make the kind of decisions that affect people’s lives, some will love you for it.  Some will not.   The business of leadership is not primarily about making friends. It is about challenging the status quo; helping others see what you see and changing something.  It invites criticism and sometimes, treachery.


Humility is not about being soft or weak nor is it about lacking confidence. Humility can sometimes roar. A truly humble leader will know exactly what she has to offer to the world, so much so that she will use all the precious time at her disposal to focus outwardly, on her goals and doing whatever it takes to accomplish them.  Margaret Thatcher once said, “ In my day, we would resolve to do something. Now, they resolve to be someone” 

If you are here, chances are you are not a World leader. So, you may ask; what does all of this have to do with me? Well, I think these four core leadership elements apply to everyone who wants to make a difference.  In a way, no matter if you run a small business, a large corporation, or  want to be the best parent you can be, it comes down to this:

  • The road to success is paved with intention.  Know your purpose and know, too, why it’s important
  • No matter what you do, the decisions you make will not please everyone.  Don’t waste your time trying.  Some will love you.  Some will not.  In the end, it rarely matters. In times of doubt, be guided by your purpose.
  • Be brave.  Make change.  Put strength behind your convictions.  Challenge complacency. Invite participation, discussion and involvement.
  • Know that rarely is anything about you.

The movie showed Baroness Thatcher, as she is today, not very well and suffering from dementia.  Some have criticized the decision to show this.  To me though, it illustrates only too clearly that power diminishes and when all is said and done, we are  left with only ourselves.

What do you think?



Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Self Knowledge

17 responses to “A Look at the Bones of Leadership… With The Iron Lady

  1. Gwyn, your analysis of what makes a great leader is powerful! Now I’ll need to go watch the movie..I like your comment about how leaders make decisions or go places that others shrink from. Also, I believe that learning from leaders from history is one of the most effective ways to study leadership. I also agree with you that learning from world leaders can be helpful to anyone because leadership is not a role-it’s a choice. Thanks for this great post!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Marguerite ~ I agree! Some of our greatest lessons about leadership come from history and the good thing about it is that we also have the opportunity to learn how leadership decisions made in times gone by worked out…for good or otherwise. Thank you for your kind words and for coming by 🙂

  2. Hi Gwyn – great post! Knowing your purpose is key…in fact I absolutely love all four of your points. It’s always interesting reading what someone else has written and seeing how relevant it is in my own life – maybe we are not all that different. Thanks for taking the time to write this post. Steve

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Steve ~ Yes, I think that being clear about our purpose is indeed the key. All choices and decisions are guided by that. Discovering the purpose is the hard part 🙂
      Thanks for your comment. It’s nice to see you here!

  3. I love your points about power and will probably go see the movie.

    I think your last point is significant and poignant. At the end of the day,at the end of life and beneath all the power, all we have is ourselves. All the more reason to be and give our best in all things and at all times.


    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Martina ~ Yes, I think you’re right. Hope you get much from the movie! Meryl Streep actually *becomes* Margaret Thatcher. It’s amazing to watch!

  4. Great post Gwyn.

    Your “four things….” that “lies in the bones of leadership” clearly shows the depth in strong leadership. Really unfortunate that the corporate world and the HR profession still don’t fully understand the importance of “what lies beneath”.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      A good thought! Perhaps that is why you are around to help increase that understanding. That seems ‘purposeful’ to me 🙂
      Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  5. Gwyn,

    I just put this movie in my Netflix queue, so I can watch it when it is available there in April. I know very little about Margaret Thatcher, but I’m very curious to learn more about her. Therefore, I’m really looking forward to checking out the movie.

    The following two excerpts from your post really resonated with me:

    “The business of leadership is not primarily about making friends. It is about challenging the status quo…”

    “No matter what you do, the decisions you make will not please everyone. Don’t waste your time trying. Some will love you. Some will not. In the end, it rarely matters. In times of doubt, be guided by your purpose.”

    Politics in countries where there are elections seems so difficult because on one hand you have to please large numbers of people to get elected. But as you mentioned, leadership requires making decisions that might be unpopular.

    Perhaps displaying leadership in business is easier, because it is easier to go against the grain there.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Greg ~ your astute comment about politics illuminates the complexities and paradoxes involved in leadership. Those who are elected to high office are challenged by the critical need to maintain integrity as they go about convincing people to vote for them. To me, that speaks to the importance of having a laser-like focus on purpose, long-term vision and a solid set of values. For me, this applies both in politics and business; the business of politics and the politics of business too 🙂

  6. Agree that Margaret Thatcher had outstanding leadership capabilities. It’s well worth understanding them more fully. The ‘tough medicine leader’ is one model that works well in certain situations and Thatcher was what Britain needed at that time. In many ways she filled a crucial unspoken need and her timing was perfect.

    She had one had one significant leadership flaw. Her autocratic ways (the difference between authoritarian and authoritative) meant that her judgment in several areas was self-destructive. Her rigidity ultimately cost her the party leadership – you can only be brutal with your team for so long. And, her stance on supporting the ousted Chilean regime when the rest of the world had moved on revealed the dark side of her ideology.

    At a time when she could have been transitioning into glory the downside of her leadership came to the fore. Perhaps, it was her human side – in its early stages dementia often shows up in the form of irrational thinking.

    Still, there’s a lot to be learned from Maggie’s leadership model.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Alan, Thank you for taking the time to comment and for adding depth and the opportunity for greater understanding about Mrs Thatcher’s leadership. As I read your comment, I found myself nodding in agreement. While she served out some tough medicine at a time when it was most needed, it seems there came a time when she stepped over a line that exhausted the tolerance of even the most devoted follower.

  7. Terry Thomas

    Hi Gwyn
    I enjoyed reading the tips you learned from the movie, especially after the recent awards show. I have not seen Meryl Streep’s movie or The Help. Now I am interested in seeing both movies. I’m sure there is a contrast in leadership just as there is a contrast between both actresses who performed their roles well.
    I’ve heard those points that emphasized about leaders can’t please everyone and need to stay focused on the vision. Though, especially in today’s world, sometimes the focus changes due to external factors and leaders need to have the charisma and personality characteristics to relate to others so people will want to work toward the vision. Dementia is a terrible disease. It would be nice if at life’s end, we have faith, family, and friends. Otherwise, it is a lonely existence.
    As we make the leadership journey, I think we also have to think about how our thoughts and actions impact others. Are we attracting others to our leadership style and vision or are our leadership tactics detracting others from the vision?

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Terry, Yes, I agree that external factors and new information constantly change and, as such, call for us to change what we do. It brings to mind though that if we feel the need to change our vision, it is probably not a vision, but a goal.
      And, of course, you’re right. Good leadership asks us to always be aware of the impact we are making on others. Toward the end of her time in office, I rather think Mrs Thatcher forgot that and it led to her ultimate political demise.
      Thank you for coming by and adding to this conversation, Terry. It is always nice to see you here.

  8. Thanks for your insight about Margaret Thatcher. Your post and readers’ comments are sparking other related movies such as Billy Elliot (for the depiction of Thatcher as evil) to Invictus (for the inspiring humanitarian leadership of Nelson Mandela). So glad to have found your wonderful blog!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Jamie ~ Billy Elliot is one of my favourites too and Invictus a powerful demonstration of what can happen among people when they are given reason to feel pride. Thank you for that and for your very kind words.

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