How Margaret Thatcher Overcame the Obstacles of her Era (And The 5 Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Her)

Margaret Thatcher was the first woman to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She broke down barriers and was an exceptional leader. These are the lessons that you can learn from her.

Margaret Thatcher may be one of the most divisive figures in British politics. But nobody can deny that she was a woman who achieved what many thought impossible at the time.

Thatcher was a strong and resolute leader who united an entire political party behind her beliefs.

How did she do it?

Here, we’ll look at some of the leadership lessons that you can learn from Margaret Thatcher. But first, let’s look at just how important her ascent to Prime Minister was for women in politics.

Shattering the Glass Ceiling

Born in Grantham, England in 1925, Margaret Thatcher showed an early interest in politics that her father encouraged. A local business owner, he served on the town’s council. He was also a Conservative, which is the political position that Thatcher would take up later in life.

Thatcher was a talented student who studied chemistry at Oxford University. It was there that she showed a true flair for politics, as she became the president of the university’s Conservative Association.

She briefly entered a career in the sciences after graduating from Oxford. However, it’s clear that politics was her true calling. Within two years, Thatcher found herself running for public office. She chose to compete for the seat of Dartford, which was a Liberal stronghold at the time.

Thatcher experienced her first political defeat in this race. However, few expected a Conservative to win the seat. Plus, her impassioned speeches struck a chord with those inside the party.

In the 1950s, Thatcher studied law and eventually became a barrister. But the call of politics proved too strong for her again. She ran for the seat in Finchley in 1959, this time coming out victorious.

From there, she dedicated herself to her political career. Within two years, she’d earned the position of undersecretary for pensions and national insurance. The Conservatives lost their power in the 1960s, which led to Thatcher serving as a Shadow Cabinet member.

But in 1970, the Conservatives regained power. And Thatcher earned the position of secretary of state for education and science. It was in this role that she first started coming up against opposition within her own party.

Thatcher found it difficult to communicate with the party’s leader, Edward Heath. He seemed almost dismissive of her talents and ideas, despite her fast ascent through the political ranks.

The difficulties frustrated her so much that she made the bold proclamation that there’d never be a female Prime Minister in her lifetime.

She was wrong.

When the Conservatives again lost power in 1974, Thatcher became a more influential figure. She contested the party’s leadership and won.

In 1975, Margaret Thatcher became the first woman to lead the Conservative party.

Four years later, she became Britain’s first female Prime Minister.

She held the position from 1979 to 1991, making her one of Britain’s longest-serving leaders.

And through it all, she showed an iron will that earned her the begrudging respect of her opposition. Her nickname of the “Iron Lady” shows just how much strength she had as a leader.

Thatcher broke through barriers that she herself thought were impossible to break. And in doing so, she destroyed the glass ceiling and showed that women could lead entire countries.

Her tenure also provides us with plenty of leadership lessons. Here are five that will empower you as a leader.

Lesson #1 – Have the Courage to Stand Up for Your Beliefs

If ever there was a leader who stuck to their guns, it was Margaret Thatcher. She had a nearly unshakeable belief system. No matter how much opposition she faced, she would confront it and stand up for her beliefs.

It’s this courage and strength that defined her as a leader.

Thatcher accepted the fact that many would not like her policies. But she also believed that her job wasn’t to get people to like her.

It was to achieve what was best for her country.

She expressed this herself when she said: “If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time. And you would achieve nothing.”

Thatcher took pride in being what she called a “convictions Prime Minister.” These convictions allowed her to stand firm in the face of criticism, be it from her opposition or her own party. She focused on doing what was right, instead of doing what came easy.

Lesson #2 – Your Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Communication is a crucial part of being an effective leader. However, it’s your actions that people will judge you by.

Imagine that you’re a manager in an office. You could ask for feedback from your team and they’ll happily give it to you. But if you do nothing with that feedback, the team gets frustrated. In the end, they stop offering feedback because they know you won’t take action.

A great leader, such as Thatcher, let her actions do most of the talking.

As she put it: “I do not know anyone who has got to the top without hard work. That is the recipe. It will not always get you to the top, but should get you pretty near.”

She may have been more than capable of a clever soundbite. But Thatcher put most of her efforts into doing rather than talking. She was someone who’d confront obstacles  head on instead of hiding behind her words.

And she earned great respect because of it.

Lesson #3 – Persevere Through Troubling Times

Thatcher had to fight for everything that she got in her life. Those fights became even tougher as she rose through the political ranks. Her inability to get through to Edward Heath could have caused her to give up. And for a while, it seemed like that was the case.

But she persevered.

When somebody put an obstacle in Thatcher’s way, she smashed through it. If there was a job that needed doing, she didn’t stop until she got it done.

She prided herself on her perseverance, once saying: “I’ve got a woman’s ability to stick to a job and get on with it when everyone else walks off and leaves it.”

This unwavering dedication to getting the job done inspired her party. It helped Thatcher gain their support because they knew they could rely on her to lead from the front.

She set the example for others to follow through her perseverance.

Lesson #4 – Be Wary of Falling in Love With Money

Many of Thatcher’s opponents would claim that money was her chief concern. She made numerous cuts and changes during her reign that may have supported that idea.

But Thatcher understood what many people don’t:

There’s a difference between recognising the importance of money and falling in love with it. The latter leads to the greed that can destroy a leader.

She said: “It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but the love of money for its own sake.”

The last part of that quote is important for any leader to take into account. It’s the love of money that can make you believe that money can solve all problems.

It can’t.

Building wealth is not a bad thing. But it cannot be the only goal that you have in life. Thatcher’s goal was always to do what she thought was best for her country.

Lesson #5 – Have Some Flexibility

While standing up for what you believe in is extremely important, you need to have some flexibility.

In this last lesson, we look at the mistake that may have led to the end of Thatcher’s reign. Her convictions eventually led to her losing her role in the Conservative party.

A little flexibility may have seen her retain power for even longer.

This is where the issue of balance comes into play. There’s a fine line between compromise and conviction. A truly great leader knows how to straddle that line. They have beliefs that can inspire others to follow them. But they also understand that those beliefs can be legitimately challenged. And when that happens, they need to be able to answer those challenges.

Be steadfast in your beliefs, but not to the point where you ignore all others. Closing yourself off to other ideas builds resentment that eventually causes issues.

The Final Word

The Conservative party tried to distance itself from Margaret Thatcher in the aftermath of her resignation.

But it wasn’t long before people again recognised just how revolutionary she was. As the first female Prime Minister, she did more for women in British politics than anyone else. Thatcher was an effective leader who showed courage, strength, and powerful perseverance.

She is a true legend of the Conservative party.

Thatcher overcame the obstacles of an entire era. She proved that women could not only reach leadership positions but also thrive once they did.

And though she made mistakes, she still offers so much that young women today can learn from.

I believe that it’s the obstacles that you face in life that truly define who you are as a person. Margaret Thatcher defined herself by overcoming the political obstacles of her era.

You can define yourself by overcoming whatever’s in your way today.

I’d like to show you how. Please contact me today if you’d like me to speak for your organisation.