Margaret Thatcher and Her Approach to Leadership Essay

Margaret Thatcher and Her Approach to Leadership Essay

A fountain of hope, a revolutionary figure and an economic liberator remains the description given to Margaret Thatcher by her supporters. Her tenure however was also marred with controversy and her economic policies were blamed for the high levels of social unrest and unemployment witnessed during her reign. Her premiership can be said to have been characterized by the fall of communism and the rise of capitalism, free markets and the privatization of nationally owned corporations. Hers can be said to have been a revolutionary reign with many changes being implemented in the country.

Thatcher also led Britain in a military victory against Arizona in 1982. Born in 1925, Margaret Thatcher became United Kingdom’s first woman Prime Minister. Thatcher held the position of Prime Minister for three consecutive terms between 1979 and 1990. She was also the leader of the Conservative Party between 1975 and 1990. Margaret Thatcher’s career in politics had kicked off early and in her book “The path to power”, she cites her father’s influence as a great contribution in her political involvement. Her passion for politics started early and she became Dartford’s candidate while in her mid-twenties although she lost in the general elections. Thatcher became Finchley MP in 1959 and in 1970 she became the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Thatcher’s road to the Prime Minister position started when the Conservative Candidate Keith Joseph dropped out of the Conservative party leader elections in 1975 and Thatcher took up his position. With the Conservative party leading in most polls, Thatcher went on to clinch the position of Prime Minister in 1979.


Margaret Thatcher’s supporters and critics often described her as an iron lady who was confident, determined, enduring and decisive (Yergin and Stanislaw, 1998). Unknown to most of them however is that these terms supported the trait theories of leadership. These theories postulate that possession of certain qualities both personal and behavioral determine the kind of leader that one becomes (Northouse, 2000). These were some of the characteristics that singled out Margaret Thatcher’s leadership ability from any other leader or non-leader for that matter. Her success in leadership stemmed out of her ambition, self confidence and desire to lead and change Great Britain from the downfall caused by the two previous governments to a world power. To do this, Thatcher came up with economic policies aimed at reducing the high inflation levels that had hit the country (Gardner, 2006). She was for privatization and establishment of a free market in Britain. Instead of the poorly managed public corporations, privatization was embraced and most public corporations were placed into the hands of private investors (Clarke, 2002). Public housing units were also sold to tenants to ensure that they were well taken care of. This according to Thatcher would encourage innovation and profits thus bring in more income to the country. Her efforts paid off and former government owned corporations began to become effective and profitable. Examples include the British Airways and British Steel which changed dramatically after privatization to become the some of the most profitable companies (Backhouse, 2002). Under the government, the corporations continued to make little or no profit wiping out their overall importance in the economy. The high union powers threatened the British economy as they demanded more income for the employees. By the time Thatcher became Prime Minister, the government workers were awaiting a salary increase which according to her was going to fuel the rate of inflation which was already nearing 20 percent (Clarke, 2002). The powers of the unions had to be reduced and it is while in this process that Thatcher’s government faced the highest challenge. Intensive opposition was evident as unions tried to reject government control. Thatcher’s enduring nature however could not be shaken.

Thatcher was an enduring leader and in the face of criticism, she stood firm to decisions which she thought were for the better advancement in the country’s economy. Policies meant to oust the out of control trade unions were not taken lightly as this posed a challenge to employment and oppression of workers through poor working conditions (Backhouse, 2002). Thatcher however managed to have the support of the parliamentary majority and laws to reduced union privileges were introduced (Gardner, 2006). The monetary policy adopted by Thatcher to replace the fiscal policy aimed at reducing money circulation in the economy also drew mixed reactions. Critics maintained that the reduction in government expenditure would greatly affect the welfare of the citizens. True to this, the severe policies largely increased the level of unemployment and the rate doubled between 1979 and 1980 (Clarke, 2002). This was not made any easier by the 1979 oil price shock which heightened the level of inflation. Appeals made to Thatcher did not lead to any change in the policies and on the contrary, public spending was further reduced (Clarke, 2002). This earned Thatcher a reputation of being domineering, cold, cruel and insensitive to the people’s welfare (Gardner, 2006).

Continued opposition from the unions and a one year strike by miners did not make Thatcher to change her position. The end of the strike was an assurance that Thatcher’s reforms would endure (Clarke, 2002). By 1983, the results of the reforms were starting to be felt as interest rates declined sharply and employment levels started going up. This chain of events displayed the perseverance and endurance that Thatcher possessed and the surety with which she went about her national duties. She was an excellent debater and arguer and often supported her arguments using data which was mostly collected for her by cabinet departments. She extensively studied any economic and political literature to ensure she had all the basic knowledge before implementing a policy. She would lay down her arguments and analyze them before coming up with a conclusion on the best way forward (Clarke, 2002). She had calculated the effect of the economic policies and knew they would seem harmful in the first years then eventually work out for the better (Thatcher, 1995).

Margaret Thatcher is one of the political figures that come to mind when we think of contingency theory of leadership. The situation of her country was one that needed complete reformation. The trade unions were out of control, inflation was high, the state intervention in the markets was high and the economy clearly needed some judicious reforms. The situation was tough and she had to come up with effective policies to revive the country from the mess (Thatcher, 1995) According to the contingency leadership theory, a leader takes into consideration environmental variables and the situation at hand to determine the kind of leadership style to be adopted (Lyer, 2007). This incorporates the leader-member relations and task structure. Attitude of the leader and the chosen approaches are also quite essential (Northouse, 2000). Margaret Thatcher took up the Prime Minister’s seat with the determination to revitalize Britain economically, politically and socially. She constantly noted that Britain has lost its way (Thatcher, 1995). Britain which was once a formidable power had declined significantly. Its principles of democracy which were greatly admired and its success in business were diminishing by the day. The urgent need was to reform the economic system and come up with counter-actions to bring Britain back to a world power status (Thatcher, 1995). Thatcher who was a firm decision maker and who believed in successful results came up with various tactics to deal with the situation. Trade union reforms were the first to be implemented since Thatcher believed that their power was exerting great pressure on public spending (Yergin and Stanislaw, 1998). Privatization, tax control, deregulation and free markets were some of the major policies adopted by Thatcher (Clarke, 2009). Their eventual success in bringing the failing economy portrayed Thatcher as a committed leader with high dedication to the country’s development.

Perhaps one of the political stunts that won praise for Margaret Thatcher was her struggle to retain Falkland Island in 1982. After applying diplomatic pressure on Argentina who showed no signs of surrendering, Thatcher took to the use of military force to retain control over the embattled island (Backhouse, 2002). No one had thought that military confrontation was going to be witnessed again since the Second World War. The return of Falkland Island to Britain’s control is said to have won many supporters for Margaret Thatcher, an occurrence that played a huge role in her re-election for a second term (Yergin and Stanislaw, 1998). Many felt that she had displayed a great deal of courage and preserved Britain’s dignity.

The Path-goal theory of leadership would takes an outstanding place in the Thatcher administration. This is a theory brought forth by Robert House and it postulates that effective leaders guide their subordinates through the paths that will guarantee high performance. The idea is to lead subordinates in achieving set goals (Lyer, 2007). This is done through increasing participation and rewarding high level performance (Northouse, 2000). Thatcher recognized the need to have an effective and supportive inner circle. She chose her helpers with absolute care whom she conferred prestige and requisite power (Gardner, 2006). They had to have the desire and the understanding of the policies and those who did not measure up with her expectations were replaced. Loyal ones were rewarded. Examples of Thatcher’s best choices as indicated by top 50 most influential persons during Thatcher’s reign included Geoffrey Howe, John Nott, Cecil Parkinson and Charles Powell (Telegraph Media, 2008). Howe served for four years as chancellor and as a Foreign Secretary for six years. John Nott held the position of Secretary of State for Defense at a crucial moment in Thatcher’s political life. He served during the Falklands War and his importance to Thatcher was so great that Thatcher refused to approve his resignation letter. He served in Defense until he retired in 1983 (Telegraphic Media, 2008). Cecil Parkinson who was quickly elevated to higher ranks was party chairman and a member of the Falklands conflict cabinet. However, Thatcher refrained from making him the foreign secretary citing personal problems in his private life. Powell is said to have had an affair with his secretary with whom they fathered a child (Telegraphic Media, 2008). Thatcher’s main foreign policy advisor was Charles Powell and in 1983 he was made Thatcher’s private secretary. These and many other members of Thatcher’s cabinet clearly understood their roles and Thatcher derived success from their co-operation (Thatcher, 1995). She was aware that her support was needed to motivate them to work against overall national demands by the people. The complications and controversies in Thatcher’s government however posed challenges as several members resigned and Thatcher had a rough time selecting new effective ones.

Lessons to be learnt from Margaret Thatcher’s Leadership

There are many leadership lessons to be learnt from Margaret Thatcher by both present and aspiring leaders. Will power, determination, ability to lead and decision making are important traits of a leader as shown by Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher combined a flamboyant will power and other leadership traits to become one of the most respected leaders in history. Her determination, persistence and highly effective leadership methods have been admired and imitated by many. For instance, John Major, Thatcher’s successor and Tony Blair have handled different economic and social issues from Thatcher’s perspective. People from around the world have also admired her and leaders have tried to imitate her and her successful policies. Ronald Reagan of the United States who is said to have been a close ally was greatly inspired by Margaret Thatcher (Backhouse, 2002). According to Yergin and Stanislaw (1998), Ronald Reagan adopted deregulation, free enterprising and tax cuts as the means to reverse the Ratchet Effect in the United States as had been witnessed in Britain.

From Thatcher’s leadership style, it can be drawn that the character of a leader and the strength of his or her ideas are what give integrity to leadership. Were it not for the fact that Thatcher was a firm decision maker who calculated the consequences of her policies quite seriously, Britain would have remained in the same sorry state up to today. The character of a leader determines how subordinates respect his or her decisions hence the reason why it should be of high integrity. This is what won Margaret Thatcher the respect she received from members of her cabinet.

A leader must be ready for opposition and criticism meaning that not everyone will buy the ideas he or she proposes. There are hosts of difficult decisions to be made when one is a leader and it is not guaranteed that others will consider it as workable as the leader think it is. How a leader handles criticism and the ability to endure even when there is little or no support is what matters most. Margaret Thatcher displayed time and again her ability to restrain from giving in to protests against her policies most of which eventually brought good outcomes. The need to have supportive arguments for an idea are crucial hence the reason why a leader should be highly knowledgeable. Looking back in time, Britain would thank Thatcher for the bold steps and her unwillingness to be disoriented by critics.


Margaret Thatcher is one leader to reckon with and her reign definitely left a leadership legacy that will continue to influence future generations. This is not only to her nation but also to the world at large. According to Gardner (2006), Britain ushered the 21st century a better and wiser place under the rule of Margaret Thatcher. Her undeterred will power, clear ideology and sheer determination to transform Britain were her primary sources of success. The Britain’s economy owes Thatcher to a large extent and the efficiency of government’s following Thatcher’s reign have highly benefited from the reforms that were introduced by the former Prime minister. Margaret Thatcher has influenced many leaders in the past with many seeking to adopt determination that resembles hers. She continues to inspire many through the Margaret Thatcher Foundation and her two literary works: The Downing Street Years and the Path to Power. Margaret Thatcher may no longer be in the public limelight but her legacy will definitely be remembered for a better part of the future as one that brought about invaluable revolution to Britain.


Backhouse, R. E. (2002). “The Macroeconomics of Margaret Thatcher, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 24(3), 313-334

Clarke, P. (2002). “Margaret Thatcher’s Place in History: Two Views,” Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 24(3), 357-368

Gardner, H. (2006). Margaret Thatcher’s New Narrative: An excerpt from Changing Minds: the art of changing our own and other people’s minds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Lyer, G. (2007). Principles of Management: Leadership Theories. New York: Cengage Learning.

Northouse, P. (2000). Leadership Theory and Practice. London: SAGE.

Telagraph Media. (2008). Top 50 Most Influential People of Margaret Thatcher’s Era. UK: Telegraph Media Group.

Thatcher, M. (1995). The Path to Power. London: HarperCollins Publishers.

Yergin, D. A. & Stanislaw, J. (1998). From Commanding Heights. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

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