The Queen is Dead, Long Live the King. If you have lived in an English-speaking country you have undoubtedly heard those words many times in your life while watching a TV show or a movie. Yesterday, September 8, 2022, with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II of England, those words were uttered in earnest for the first time in my memory. Her story is a demonstration of exceptional leadership in the absence of political power. As leaders, we can learn two important lessons from the life of Queen Elizabeth.
Integrity is Lesson #1
The first and most important lesson is integrity. Integrity is the trait of being true to our stated values, purpose, and beliefs. On her 21st birthday, the Queen pledged “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.” In the intervening 75 years between officially reaching adulthood and her passing away, she did exactly what she said, she served her subjects. The Queen had links, as either Royal Patron or president, to over 600 charities, associations, professional bodies, and service organizations according to abc News. Service is clearly one of her highest values.
Another value that was abundantly apparent is that of Duty. In September of 1940, the “Battle of Britain” began when Hitler and Nazi Germany commenced a massive bombing campaign. Thousands of London children were moved out of the city to more remote parts of the country or other countries in the Commonwealth to keep them safe. In October, then Princess Elizabeth did her duty and addressed the children of England in a radio address designed to let them know they are not alone nor forgotten. Imagine being 14 and addressing an entire country! I can only believe that she was nervous, yet she did her duty.
During the 70 years of her reign, she never overstepped the bounds of the monarchy and strayed into politics. The sovereign of England is the head of state but has no political sway. They do not make law, nor do they govern. While I suspect she probably had strong opinions on the world’s politics, she never imposed them on others. Her duty was to be politically neutral and she maintained that neutrality.
Integrity is essential for leaders. Without integrity, we can’t be trusted and if we aren’t trusted, we can’t lead effectively.
Discretion is Everything
The second leadership trait that the Queen exemplified is that of discretion. When she began her reign in 1953, the world, and our media, were very different than they are now. Then, the media was much more respectful of those in power so discretion was easier. Today, with the advent of cable broadcast, the internet, and social media there is enormous competition for news. It has become all but impossible for public figures to hide any indiscretions. Yet, in spite of the enormous public scrutiny, the Queen, if not her family, has avoided any scandals. Again, I can only imagine that the Queen had strong opinions. I don’t know for a fact since she was discreet and never strayed outside her role.
As leaders, it is incumbent that we also practice discretion. I’ve seen too many “wanna-be” leaders who talk out of school about their team members, who share things they think or feel when it is inappropriate, and therefore undermine their own ability to lead.
Queen Elizabeth embodied leadership without authority. While I am not a fan of Monarchies, I am a fan of Queen Elizabeth’s. The world is a better place having had her in it. We can honor her memory by embodying these traits.