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Margaret Thatcher was a strong, intelligent woman who rose quickly to the top at a young age. Many people are talking about her leadership legacy as a result of the recent biopic The Iron Lady, and leadership development lessons do abound in a closer examination of Margaret Thatcher’s career and life, from the rise and fall of her influential leadership.

How did Thatcher rise so quickly through the political ranks, anyway? According to Herminia Ibarra, “she used her drive and hard work to get into the best position possible for growing her competencies, her network, and her visibility.” Indeed, Thatcher was determined to gain whatever leverage she could from her brains and her hard work. In networking, she found what Ibarra describes as “powerful mentors” who helped her ascend even faster.

Take home leadership development lessons: Work hard. Emphasize your strengths to stand out from the crowd. Network with others. Find strong mentors who can give you inside tips on how to improve your career growth and your leadership skills.

Thatcher became well-known and respected for a variety of reasons. For starters, “she could outsmart almost anyone.” She became known for her intelligence and her ability to use it to her advantage in any argument. Furthermore, she was more than just a smart political figure – “she was coherent and she was authentic.” Indeed, people from all political persuasions could respect her even if they disagreed with her, because she lived her values. This clear authenticity greatly benefitted her career growth.

Take home leadership development lessons: Find what makes you unique. Capitalize on your talents. Project a clear message that helps you to stand out. Live a life that demonstrates your values and supports your career growth.

These all sound like solid traits and effective techniques. So what went wrong in Thatcher’s leadership development? Well, after she got the power she wanted, she fell into what Ibarra describes as an “identity trap.” Rather than evolving as her career growth continued, she clung tightly to her old determination and her old tricks which made her famous, and she refused to compromise or budge from what had worked in the past. Ultimately, her refusal to grow and change and consider other viewpoints ended her political career.

Take home leadership development lessons: Don’t get stuck in a rut. Continue to grow and evolve as you rise through the ranks. Stay humble and open to continuing to learn new lessons throughout your career.


Leadership Development Lessons from Margaret Thatcher

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