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.

 

This Week’s 10 Best Leadership Links

relaxHere are some of the week’s best articles, infographics, and videos that can educate leaders:

1. This article tells you how to make mundane topics interesting. It’s mandatory reading for any leader who needs to make a presentation interesting.

2. This man has always had one dream: to make shoes. An inspirational interview that will motivate even the most weary leader.

3. Your ability to lead well may hinge on what you had for lunch.

4. Here’s a man who has done a great amount of traveling without a car. All leaders should know how to hitchhike.

5. This author may promote himself too much via Twitter. Leaders can learn from his success and his detractors.

6. An infographic showing five weird habits of successful people. Worth a quick study.

7. Your going to get into debates every now and then so you minds well prepare for them. Here are three ways you can “fight right.”

8. A helpful list of advice for aspiring leaders. Good, concise pointers.

9.  20 Signs of Leadership Indifference. Title says it better than I could.

10. Ahhh, some comic relief to see us out.

 

Can Innovation Be Taught With a Children’s Story?

New PictureHow Stella Saved the Farm: A Tale about Making Innovation Happen is a delightful foray into the challenge of innovation in organizations.  From two of business’s prominent thought leaders, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, this short read tells a compelling story, a la Orwell’s Animal Farm, about a once successful farm that needs to reinvent itself in the face of intense competitive threats. Sounds like an everyman’s story these days, doesn’t it?

The authors touch on the common and key challenges that any new product or service effort faces in an organization. Resistance to new ideas, territorial behavior, departmental feelings of superiority, premature judgments, and so on. In a very simple way, they manage to paint a vivid picture of a treacherous innovation landscape using dry humor to keep the story light and fast paced.  It’s refreshing to see a pair of serious academics present their research and experience in a genre akin to a children’s story.

At the end of the book the authors provide a useful set of questions that help you draw broader and deeper conclusions about your own innovation efforts and challenges.  And then they offer their important lessons.  These lessons are based on the authors’ deep research and experience and lead-in nicely to their in-depth leadership book, The Other Side of Innovation:  Solving the Executive Challenge.

Proactive leaders will resonate with the context and subtext of How Stella Saved the Farm. Reading between the lines, you’ll gain a greater appreciation as to why a pragmatic, disciplined focus on execution and getting things done is at the core of successful innovation.  The book shows that by managing the micro-politics and diverse relationships within an organization can be the difference between “betting the farm” and “saving the farm.” As the authors say, “in any great innovation story, the idea is only the beginning.”

Don’t expect this book to solve all your innovation problems. Think about it as an innovation story that everyone in your organization can understand and follow. You don’t need an MBA, nor would you even need to have majored in business to understand the challenges and situation that Windsor Farm faces. Use it exactly as what it is — a metaphor for helping people in your organization understand the challenges of innovation and to understand the different perspectives that exist in a changing environment.