A Small Leadership Lesson From Margret Thatcher

margrat thathcer black and whiteWith the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death this week much has been said about her achievements, political savvy, and courage.

There is little we can add to the compelling, moving obituaries.

However, there is one Thatcher anecdote that I think leaders can make use of and learn from.

Paul Johnson writes a chapter on Margret Thatcher in his book, Heroes. He applauds Thatcher’s heroism and ability, but he says Thatcher had an “irritating habit of feeding you back your own ideas.”

He remembers that while she was PM he told her a clever phrase about the government’s roll within society.  Thatcher stopped him, took out a pen and notebook from her purse, and wrote the line down. Weeks later Johnson was watching Thatcher on the news and without missing a step Thatcher repeated Johnson’s phrase verbatim.

Johnson found this to be “annoying” and we can see why he feels slightly miffed by the whole ordeal. However, the anecdote teaches us a valuable lesson about Thatcher’s character and leadership style. She had a tremendous ability to listen and, more importantly, to learn. Though Johnson wasn’t happy with the phrase theft, he admits, “No one was ever keener on acquiring knowledge, and correcting her faults and deficiencies.”

Like Thatcher, leaders should carry around a notebook to record ideas and lesson. It helps leaders listen and learn key concepts. However, I’d recommend not repeating phrases word-for-word.

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