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Margaret Thatcher was the new Prime Minister when my family lived in Wales in the late 70s and early 80s. I was a young kid and had no connection to her historic rise to leadership as the first woman to lead a Western power in modern times – my (somewhat of a) parallel was that the regional football (soccer) association would not allow me to play in the local league as a girl. May seem a trite parallel, but much like Britain and politics were the life of Thatcher, football was mine at age 8.

I began reflecting on my experience of being “banned” from football well-before Gladwell’s Outliers, although using similar time, location, and opportunity dimensions. Today I reflect similarly on the leadership contributions of Thatcher – a potential lesson in today’s classrooms – and a lesson previously shared with students and one today that I share with my nieces and nephews. Below is one example where timing, location, and opportunity were not on her side (e.g., support was not there for her; country was in decline; aggression was not on British Isles; party was associated with status quo) and she, in her own words, led as a “conviction politician” (Gregory, 04.08.2013).

Thatcher’s actions in the Falklands War show us (Coffey):

… There is a difference between being a “leader” and actually “leading.”

… As prime minister, if she didn’t stand up to the military junta in Argentina then nobody else would.

History is littered with examples of when world leaders have failed to act. In many cases the consequences of such indecisiveness have been perilous. Margaret Thatcher saw that liberating the 2,000 inhabitants of the Falkland Islands was the right thing to do. More importantly, she recognized that it was her responsibility as leader of the United Kingdom to see the mission through.

… Making the right decision is not necessarily the same as making the most popular decision.

Leadership is about selflessly acting in the best interests of those that you lead, it is about inspiring and motivating those around you to achieve a common goal, and it is about taking responsibility for what goes well and what goes badly.

In his book Good to Great, Collins describes Level 5 Leadership. To better understand this concept, that is, “the essence of Level 5” leadership Collins reflects on Abraham Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War, believing that “the nation must endure… it’s Lincoln getting a battle report from Antietam and he doesn’t flinch” (Collins, audio clip). Similarly, Thatcher standing firm in her belief of country resulted in (Gregory, 04.08.2013):

Great victories… Her policies revitalized British business, spurred industrial growth and swelled the middle class.

and tributes from today’s leaders as:

 “a great leader, a great prime minister, a great Briton” (Prime Minister David Cameron)

“… one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend” (White House statement).

So, what’s the lesson? Collins says, “A funny thing happens in the presence of a Level 5… Other people begin to be more like Level 5” (audio clip). He defines Level 5 leader as those (audio clip):

who operated first and foremost with a genuine humility; but it was humility as defined as a burning, passionate, obsessive ambition for the cause, for the company, for the work—not themselves. And they had this utterly stoic will to make good on that ambition.

The Falklands War, again, an example that grounds Thatcher’s actions in Level 5 leadership. As such, Thatcher serves as example to us as leaders and teachers; her legacy teaches us that we must lead and teach with similar humility—with a true passion and ambition for engaging students to learn, grow, and achieve academic excellence, for ensuring that parents are satisfied with their children’s learning experience—to never give up.

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Coffey, Luke. 03.24.2013. Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War: A Lesson in Leadership. Huffington Post blog retrieved online here. Release of MT’s Private files for 1982 – the Falklands War (1). Select private papers available from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation online here.

Collins, James. “A Funny Thing Happens Around Level 5 Leaders.” Audio Clip available online here.

Collins, James. Good to Great. Information available online on author’s website here.

Collins, James. “The Essence of Level 5 as Demonstrated by Abraham Lincoln.” Audio Clip available online here.

Collins, James. “What is Level 5?” Audio Clip available online here.

Gregory, Joseph H. 04.08.2013. Margaret Thatcher, Who remade Britain, Dies at 87. New York Times. Available online here.

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