Margaret Thatcher; Saviour or Style Victim?

margaret_thatcherMargaret Thatcher; Saviour or Style Victim?

The death of Margaret Thatcher has brought a deluge of comment and opinion (just try googling her name). But what type of leader was Margaret Thatcher? Was she a Saviour, as some people have suggested, or the Devil made flesh? To me, Thatcher was a victim of Style. Communication or Social Style that is.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece on the Driving Social Style, as typified by Lords Alan Sugar. You read about this style here . In that article, I mentioned that Margaret Thatcher is the other (stereo)typical example of the Driving Style; needing to be in control, hiding their emotions, apparently cold and, even, uncaring, with a strong preference to get the job done, even at the expense of relationships. With an expression like “the Lady’s not for turning” you almost get the mission statement for the Driving Style.

Several of the comments from people who actually knew her, rather than just being exposed to her public persona, have said that  although she could appear hard in public, in private she had a caring side. This was evidenced by her apparently personally writing to the families of every serviceman who died in the Falkland’s crisis. Maybe what we saw is not exactly who she was, but it is natural that we judge a person by what they do. This is where the Saviour or Demon labels come in; it depends where you are looking at that behaviour from, and how it relates to your personal values.

Margaret Thatcher may have been disliked by many people (possibly even hated) but the majority of commentators have indicated that, even amongst her enemies, she was respected. Interestingly, she is possibly more revered outside of the UK than in it, and she certainly defined a certain British image associated with her time as Prime Minister.

But what of her legacy? What impact did her style have on those who followed? John Major is the archetypal Analytical Style; Blair is harder to pin down, being either versatile or inconsistent, depending on how you look at it, but probably responds more to “people” than either of his predecessors. As such, Blair is possibly an Amiable, with a strong need for acceptance and wanting to achieve consensus. His body language, is however, ambiguous and hard to read.

Gordon Brown is another Analytical in the mold of Major, and this style is the really cool and aloof one, though attention to detail is a strength, which is why history may say both Brown and Major were better Chancellors than PMs. Neither were blessed with great charisma. Blair had Charisma, but more style than substance? Perhaps.

David Cameron is interesting, as he is somewhere between Blair and Major. Amiable-Analytical perhaps? Like Thatcher, he is leading the country at a difficult time, but seems to want to project an image of someone who makes tough decisions, but with compassion. Time will tell if this genuine, or  not, as the majority of public opinion on Blair seems to believe.

For me, Margaret Thatcher defined my youth and early career. I learned a lot form observing her leadership style. What works and what doesn’t. Thatcher possibly lacked versatility and was a victim of her style, but this undoubtedly helped her to achieve what successes she had. It also probably hindered her from taking more people with her on the journey.


Why Di Canio may be just what SAFC needs…for now

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Why Di Canio may be just what SAFC needs…for now

Many a football fan will be waking up today to the news that Paulo Di Canio is the new manager of Sunderland Football Club. Di Canio is a character who splits opinion. A genius on the pitch as a player, capable of amazing skill; but a self-confessed fascist off the pitch who was once banned for giving a Nazi-style salute (he described it as a Roman salute). But what do we know about his leadership style and will it help Sunderland to avoid relegation with 7 games left?

Read a full review of Di Canio at his previous, and first, managerial appointment here . He was renowned for demanding very high standards of discipline, which could be broadly summarised in a tee shirt logo as “My ay or the Highway”. Di Canio’s time at Swindon was characterised by frequent outbursts, dysfunctional relationships…and success in the form of promotion in his first season. The approach used is typical of the Autocratic style of leadership, as described by Kurt Lewin back in 1939. And the Autocratic Style is just what Di Canio seems to exemplify.

The Autocratic style of Leadership is perfectly suited to situations where there is great urgency, and time is short. This perfectly describes Sunderland’s situation in the English Premier League today. So, he may be just the right man to help Sunderland avoid the drop. However, as he found at Swindon, he does not have absolute authority, so he is going to have to develop other leadership styles, maybe more collaborative. The smartest Generals, who are rarely on the field of war but observe from the sidelines, know that you need trusted Lieutenants to carry out your orders on the field. Di Canio will need to identify, or bring in, people he can trust.

Similarly, he needs to foster relationship with the Chairman and Board if he is to get the autonomy and funds he needs to succeed.

I won’t be surprised if he succeeds this year (though as a Newcastle fan, I hope it starts after the Tyne-Wear derby). After all, when there is a fire, you need a fireman to take control and douse the flames. But what about when the fire is out  and you need to win hearts and minds  and inspire people? Perhaps Di Canio could do worse that read a bit of more recent Leadership theory. I would suggest a bit of Kouzes and Posner  .