Leadership lessons for CEOs from Queen Elizabeth 1

 

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ELIZABETH 1 CEO: Strategic lessons from the leader who built an empire/ ALAN AXELROD/ PRENTICE HALL PRESS/2000/274PAGES

To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it – All leaders would know that.

Elizabeth 1 CEO discusses the leadership and business management lessons that can be learnt from the Elizabethan era. In an era of male chauvinism, betrayals, sabotage, religious crisis, and easy/ flimsy executions (beheading), the survival and leadership lessons used by Elizabeth 1 are still very useful in today’s business scenes.

The author used a lot of stories and incidences that span throughout Elizabeth’s life and reign to explain different concepts which she used to build her empire which was in a very bad shape prior to her ascension to the throne. He sometimes used the Queen’s words and interpreted it to modern English – very necessary, before explaining the rationale behind her words.

Elizabeth knew how to keep her head. It was not by defiance, but by strength of character, a refusal to be intimidated, and a choice never to panic.

It was interesting to go back in time to read stories from the 15th and 16th centuries and still get such deep and relevant lessons which can easily be applied today. Better still, to look at Elizabeth as a CEO may seem a bit different but a closer look at her reign would guide you to know that most leaders are leaders everywhere, you only just changed their terrain.

The wisdom she exuded, her knack for knowledge and her decision to constantly surround herself with scholars and very learned advisers, the brand image of a virgin Queen she worked hard at creating and maintaining, her negotiation and put-it-in-writing attitude, how she ruled in an era where someone was shocked that the Queen was a woman! Are all lessons for CEOs of today and the future.

Create your self-image or others will create one for you.

The book holds lots of leadership lessons for every CEO out there, whether for a small business or a large one; understanding that leaders face similar problems is a given. Some of the standout lessons are;

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Learning how to respond to challenges to your authority: In a bid to be open and to get varying views to make a decision, a leader sometimes finds her authority challenged? How would Elizabeth handle that?

Each leader must decide to what degree he can afford to allow his leadership to be challenged. When it is appropriate to bend, to compromise with challengers? And when it is necessary to control them, to limit them, and even to fire them.

Decide in what areas you want input from others, including discussion and debate, but decide as well just where your word must be law. Then hold to this and make no apology for it. It is your responsibility.

…however, they are attended to, they must be attended to rather than be ignored in the hope that they will just go away. And somewhere, at least in the mind of the manager, the executive or the CEO, a line must be drawn defining the limit of flexibility and compromise.

In dealing with people: As much as possible the Queen advised leaders to communicate directly and often with their subordinates to prevent distortion of information which occurs after it has passed through various ranks and people. She cited the case of the Bible which was widely read yet variously interpreted and wildly distorted (the religious crisis for which should be the central worship style for England – Catechism or Protestanism was one of the major reasons for unrest). Leaders are also reminded to be a bit flexible when dealing with people with respect to policies and regulations as they are meant to guide and should not be absolute.

To adhere rigidly to a set of principles, is to ignore, deny the nature of any human business.

Effective leaders put issues of ‘universal humanity’ ahead of blind obedience to rules, regulations, and prescribed procedure.

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Be the Boss: Ultimate authority, Ultimate responsibility.

Being the boss requires that you be ready to step on some toes and make some people unhappy because most times people don’t even know what they want. You must be willing to make unpleasant but necessary decisions when needed.

Let’s face it, most business organizations are not democracies and cannot be run as such, We may espouse various systems of participatory management, team structures and flexible hierarchies, but when it comes down to it, managers are NOT elected by the employees they lead, and sometimes-maybe even often -managers and other business leaders must make unpopular decisions. They must be willing to ‘discontent a number’.

Leaders must create an environment that allows him to make unpopular decisions and still remain viable as a leader.

Tosan’s take: This was a breather from serious reading. I loved reading the stories per topic/sub and I did get a good understanding of her time without taking a history class. Instead, I got a combined class in history and leadership in one. It is a lovely read and a good dimension to a popular political era. I still don’t know how she was able to manage the pressure of being unmarried throughout her reign of 45years (maybe cos she didn’t have mothers like ours) despite many attempts to ‘force’ and even manipulate her to get married whether for political or religious alliances – thinking out loud. My major take away from this book is simply put the buck stops here!