Margaret Thatcher: Leading From the Front

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Margaret Thatcher was, first and foremost, a leader, not a woman in a leadership position, but a leader; those who push for quotas for women don’t understand that leadership characteristics and internalized principles are what make outstanding leaders, male or female. Having more and more mediocre leaders, who happen to be women, will never change the world in the way that Margaret Thatcher changed, not just England, but the free world. She did not ride affirmative action, identity politics or third-wave feminist quotas to one of the highest leadership positions in the world, nor did she influence history because of her gender. She was at the forefront in changing the way the British people thought about their nation and its place in the world – there was no leading from behind for Mrs. Thatcher.

The fact that Mrs. Thatcher was prime minister in Britain at the same time that Ronald Reagan was U.S. president doubled the impact of both leaders and undoubtedly strengthened the achievements of each of them. But both would have been transformative leaders even without the very special friendship that they enjoyed and the mutual support they were to each other in their respective positions in world politics. Without question, together they made the world a better and safer place. Both will go down in history as having the courage of their convictions. As was said of Mrs. Thatcher: She never “went wobbly.” When all about her, leaders caved to political pressure and bought into the utopian promises of socialism, Margaret Thatcher understood what it takes to preserve freedom, encourage economic prosperity, and build a strong nation.

A self-made daughter of a green-grocer, Margaret Thatcher knew the value of hard work and the strength-sapping propensity of an entitlement mentality. She knew that freedom had to be protected with extreme diligence, and she understood the power of courage and fortitude in standing for right in the face of overwhelming odds for the politically expedient. She once said, “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” Thatcher worked tirelessly and uncompromisingly to ensure that future generations would live in a world of both personal freedom and free markets with their capacity to generate innovation, economic growth, wealth, and prosperity.

Today, consultants tell leaders that they must have a “vision,” a “mission,” and an overriding “strategic plan.” Thatcher didn’t need anyone to tell her to “get” a vision. Hers was simple and direct; it came from within. She was determined to save the United Kingdom from becoming a second-rate, “has-been” empire. At the time, conditions were so bad in England that the Wall Street Journal said, “Goodbye, Great Britain: It was nice knowing you.” Shortly before she was elected prime minister (1979), Thatcher declared, “I can’t bear Britain in decline, I just can’t.” That mantra guided and shaped her as prime minister. That vision guided her negotiations and, regardless of the criticism leveled at her, she remained steadfast in her determination to stop the decline of the British Empire.

One factor that is often overlooked in the leadership of Mrs. Thatcher is the role of her faith in developing her convictions. As Mark Tooley, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, pointed out, “Thatcher’s faith and leadership helped revive a nation, peacefully win the Cold War, and promote global human rights ultimately based on biblical principles of human dignity and responsibility.” Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan’s terms as leaders of Britain and the U.S. coincided with the period of Pope John Paul II, a leader beloved by Catholics and other religious people around the world and a leader who stood solidly with Reagan and Thatcher in their conservative principles and their opposition to Communist leaders’ repression of the countries under their rule. While their religious beliefs were different, the three world leaders understood and cherished the role of Judeo-Christian principles as the foundation for freedom, liberty, and human rights.

Like the U.S. today, at the outset of Thatcher’s leadership, the United Kingdom was facing a fiscal crisis, entering an economic recession, high employment, unprecedented government dependency, conflicts over unions, and religious and cultural disintegration. Margaret Thatcher feared that her nation would become a “footnote in the history books … remembered kindly for its noble past.” For almost 12 years, she worked diligently to turn Britain from what many cultural analysts viewed as inexorable decline.

The conservative values that Thatcher and Reagan shared were defended by each of them with eloquence and conviction. Both leaders of nations became world leaders as they stood firmly on the side of freedom against all the forces of evil that would tear down nations and enslave people.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher was called stubborn, but in her own mind she viewed it as being very “patient,” as long as she knew that in the end “she would win.” She stayed true – confident and forceful – to the end … and she won. Her legacy is not merely as Britain’s first woman prime minister; instead, her legacy is without a gender designation. She is simply one of the strongest of the post-WWII leaders. As Ronald Reagan summarized so beautifully, “She never wavered. And she was proved right by events. … This great lady has not only served her country well, she has served the free world well. She is truly a great statesman. So much so that I’ll correct what I just said: She is a great stateswoman holding her own among all the statesmen of the world.”

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