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Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady
A leader with an unshakable determination
In 2008 the United States elected its first minority president. It was a tremendous accomplishment for a country that had previously only had white male leaders for well over a 100 years. Yet England, almost a half a century earlier, had already had not only their first female leader, but she was one of the longest standing leaders in their history. Margaret Thatcher led her party in office for 15 years, clearly not just a token female leader. An entire generation of citizens could not remember anyone else in office besides Ms. Thatcher and frankly could not picture anyone else leading their country. She is a remarkable woman who led through sheer force of determination and energy who worked incredibly hard for what she received. This is her story.
Image Credit The Famous People.com
We mourn the passing of Margaret Thatcher
On April 8th, Margaret Thatcher who led her country with strength and conviction succumbed to a stroke and passed at the age of 87. I think there is no better way to celebrate her life than for the next generation to learn about who she was and what she stood for.
To women, she showed that being a woman never means being inferior and you can be as tough or tougher than any man. To all she showed that conviction goes hand-to-hand with empathy. People need a leader who they can count on especially during tough times. Margaret was that rock in a sea of unrest.
The world will mourn the loss of a great woman!
Thatcher, a visionary or a stubborn egotist?
Like many leaders who make tremendous impacts on their country, Margaret Thatcher was actually born into very modest means with a father who owned a grocery store, something she would refer back to throughout her political career. Considering herself to be middle class she always considered middle class to be 'her people'. Unlike most future political leaders, Thatcher went into science not only earning her Bachelor of Science but also working for two major material companies while working on her law degree and eventually going into politics. Yet even in college Thatcher knew she wanted to go into politics. Being part of the conservative (name of her political party in England) party on campus and even going to one of their national conventions, she was hooked on the energy and the potential impact she could make from inside the government, even if she was ridiculed as a female and having no potential in higher politics. She had the gift of a clear vision to the future and was going to let nothing get in her way to achieve that vision.
One of the aspects of Thatcher's personality that I found so fascinating is her tremendous capacity for work. Throughout her career, even into her retirement, she never slept more than 4 hours a night. It is hard to say if that was why she was successful or it was a result of her success that she worked so hard, but with every position she had in politics she would read and provide opinions on every level of document including those that were far beneath her status. For instance while she was Education Secretary she oversaw a number of changes including the consolidation of many smaller schools to fewer larger school. She insisted on reviewing every single proposal for consolidation even though this was something that normally would be vetted at a much lower level and then sent up with recommendations, she insisted on reviewing personally. The result of this insistence on personal involvement and her tremendous capacity to remember details read years prior allowed her to overwhelm nearly anyone in debate by her knowledge. She was able to pull our detailed plans, facts and figures to support virtually any argument she was trying to make. This is part of the reason she was such a force to be reckoned with in any discussion which would ultimately turn into a debate..
This attention to detail and ability to remember facts and figures all led to another interesting characteristic that most in England feel is fully synonymous with the name Thatcher. When you can out debate nearly every opponent, TV interviewer or world leader, one can unknowingly build a shell of superiority that fails to let in outside opinions. While Thatcher always had strong opinions, possibly due to listening to her father as a part time preacher and part time political leader, but most likely in no small part to her just being the smartest kid in class. It must have been hard when you have all the answers to open your mind up to listen to other people's opinions. While in school this might not have been a problem, however in politics it is a very mixed blessing. On one hand a true visionary leader needs to be able to make a goal and stick to it regardless of what critics might say. Only when they succeed will others possibly understand their forward-looking vision. A perfect example of this was Thatcher's dogged defense of a tiny territory off the coast of Argentina that was attacked and occupied by Argentina's military dictatorship. Most inside England and globally believed that England's military would have no ability to remove an invading force from the Falklands, thousands of miles from their home bases. Yet with dogged optimism and determination she succeeded and won that conflict.
"Make up your own mind what you are going to do and persuade people to go YOUR way. Never go with the crowd."
A conviction to rival any leader in the world
Yet on the other hand if one doesn't listen to other opinions, especially as an elected official, one might find themselves either further in front or going in the wrong direction of loyal supporters. Thatcher found just that in 1990 when, what is called the back-benchers or those in her party that were not in her cabinet, started to become increasingly frustrated with her policies especially when she refused to listen to their feedback or concerns. She was convinced of her own direction and would not be swayed. This was precisely how she earned her nickname the Iron Lady which was actually first issued by the Soviet Union as an insult to her, yet she took as a compliment. In fact when Ronald Regan was engaged in negotiations with the Soviet Union she told him (and has since been famously repeated) "Now is not the time to be wobbly". This is how she lived her life, with conviction and strength.
It would be inappropriate to speak about Thatcher without discussing her over archiving goal in life, which was to rid the country, and ideally the world, of socialism. Partly through the teachings of her father but also through her own ideas, she felt that people are happiest when they have control over their own destiny even if that means they sometimes have to work a little harder. She understood the concept of the government helping people during tough times, but wanted to limit that and really have people work to better themselves. One of the toughest challenges was actually privatizing major industries including electric, gas even the air industry; things we take for granted when we speak of British Telecom or British Airways, but was in no way taken for granted in the 1980s. These programs, which Thatcher enacted to encourage the population to control their own destiny, truly put to test capitalism as a concept and had tremendous impact on society. Some of the deregulation has actually led to large drops in the economy decades later including the housing/debt crisis that hit in 2010, on the other hand there has been more wealth created in that country than could ever have been imagined prior.
While it goes without saying that intelligent plays a major role in the success, however sometimes even more of a factor is hard work, determination and execution. Thatcher was renowned for working 20-hour days (to the detriment of her family at home) and pushing her colleagues and even the population as a whole to new and many times difficult positions when her conviction told her that was the proper place to go. She faced hurdles at every turn, but never let those hold her down. She gained tremendous respect from world leaders who had for the most part never encountered a strong female leader in modern history. She truly was a force to be reckoned with!
What we can learn from this story
I find it frustrating during elections when any opposition identifies changes in economy or environment and blames it on the party in office who most of the time has been in office for only a couple of years. The assumption is that policies and decisions by a leader have virtually instantaneous impacts. Yet when you read on the Iron Lady with the benefit of hindsight it becomes increasingly clear how every action has not simply one reaction but a chain of reactions, which will ripple for decades to come. One example is the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act in the United States in 1999 leading over a decade later to the mortgage crisis and in no small part led to one of the steepest recessions in US and global history. While for many years that repeal led to tremendous economic growth, virtually without precedent in the United States, without oversight it also led to companies taking advantage of the system leading to global debt crisis.
If we can learn anything from this example or those from Thatcher's history is that changes take time and will always have long reaching consequences. This is not to say that a country should not change, for change is inevitable for survival, but one needs to take measured steps and know it takes time to measure success. In many ways the Chinese have a very good policy when they take a view not of 1-2 years to measure success, but 1-2 decades. Thus, in our own lives or those of our leaders try to not expect things immediately but know that all things take time and must be given a chance to play out. If they don't work as expected, make course corrections of course, but know that results don't happen immediately.
A few of my favorite quotes
"You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer" -- Margaret Thatcher
No one, thank heavens, is quite like anyone else, however much the Socialists may like to pretend otherwise. We believe that everyone has the right to be unequal. But to us, every human being is equally important...Everyone must be allowed to develop the abilities he knows he has within him -- and she knows she has within her -- in the way he chooses" -- Margaret Thatcher
"There is something else which one feels. That is a sense of this country's destiny: the centuries of history and experience which ensure that, when principles have to be defended, when good has to be upheld and when evil has to be overcome, Britain will take up arms. It is because we on this side have never flinched from difficult decisions that this House and this country can have confidence in this Government today." - Margaret Thatcher
My overall review of this book
For all those that might have or plan to see the movie "The Iron Lady" I would highly recommend you read this book, which goes into far more detail on the accomplishments she had in her life which is quite extensive and has had far reaching impacts. In fact I fear the movie glosses over quite a bit of what Ms. Thatcher actually accomplished and the hurdles she had to overcome. For those interested in politics or simply the story of a woman who overcame all obstacles and came to be seen not for her gender but the ideas and strength of character. This book is both inspiring and entertaining at the same time.
Please be aware that John Campbell assumes a certain level of familiarity with British political system and processes and thus might be beneficial to read up slightly on this in advance. There will be several chapters that will seem to dwell on election nuances that for those less interested in politics might wish to skip. However, even for those readers who bypass small sections on local politics and read simply on her country and world impacts will find this to be a very satisfying read.
Get your own copy
While an interesting movie, this book is far superior to what was made for the silver screen. A true biography of this amazing woman which did not shy away from showing both sides of her personality and policies. Strongly recommend it to all who are interested in this fascinating woman.