“I find bowing to people who occasionally wear crowns rather odd. I’ll reserve my deference for achievement rather than bloodline.”
–Robin Ince, English stand-up comedian, actor, and writer
That is one man’s opinion, and it certainly has value, but I wonder whether Mr. Ince would “reserve his deference” to Queen Elizabeth II. Surely the recent outpouring of admiration for the Queen is proof that hundreds of millions around the world defer to her for several good reasons. Last week was the Diamond Jubilee celebration marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 60-year reign, the second-longest in British history.
But the festivities acknowledge so much more than the longevity of this extraordinary woman; they honor, too, a life well lived in service to Britain. Nearly 2000 years ago, Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher and dramatist, advised that you choose as a guide someone whom you admire. A woman long in wisdom, there is much to be said for choosing Elizabeth II as that guide.
Many books and articles have given the facts leading to the Queen’s ascent to the throne on June 2, 1953, when she was just 25 years old. Growing up Princess Elizabeth of York, neither she nor her parents, George and Elizabeth, had any expectation that she would ever be the Queen of England. It required first that her uncle Edward VIII become the first British monarch to abdicate the throne. Her father was then crowned George VI (the subject of the recent film The King’s Speech). Upon the death of her father in February 1952, a beloved ruler, she was crowned Queen Elizabeth II.
Countless Americans follow the lives of “the royals” as closely as do their British cousins. At different times in our history and to varying degrees, Americans have been attracted to the notion of having our own royal family. The closest our country has come in my lifetime was with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1962. I wonder how many Americans vicariously pictured themselves in “Camelot” when John and Jacqueline Kennedy occupied the White House?
Judging by the number of folks I see on airplanes reading Hollywood gossip magazines, many among us consider movie stars to be a species of royalty, with lives that travel in heavenly firmaments we are not fit to co-populate. Perhaps, then, some minds associate the concepts of fame and royalty. However, Queen Elizabeth has made no such misperception because she dutifully accepted the extraordinary sacrifice that is lashed to her person and her status as genuine nobility.
Elizabeth’s responsibilities are framed by the Constitutional Monarchy that exists in Britain, requiring, first, of her a highly formal public demeanor. I have read that in private Elizabeth is an affable, witty person, someone you would enjoy speaking with about typical subjects that occupy anyone’s days. Yet in public she is bidden to carry herself with the grace and seriousness required of her status as monarch. And she always has, following through commendably.
Unlike Elizabeth II, many leaders don’t get quite right this difficult balancing act. Some leaders incorrectly believe that social popularity is essential to being an effective and respected leader—they think they need to be one of the guys or gals. There is no question that leaders need to be affable and approachable. But what followers really want in their leaders is someone also imbued with a genuine sense of humility, a deep-seated respect for all in the orbit of their responsibility, someone who understands and acknowledges that we are all individuals of worth, not just the “royals” among us.
As parent-leaders, too, many times we don’t seem to realize that our children have all the pals they need at school and in the neighborhood after school. When they finally come home at the end of a busy day of learning and playing, children and teens want their parents to create a loving environment in which they are shown the rules of the road by parents who live and breathe those rules vividly, and, of course, much, much more.
More than anything, followers and co-workers want leaders to, well, look and act like leaders. When they see their leaders acting appropriately, predictably, they are comforted and feel confident, secure. Then they find it easy to buckle down and do their own work. As columnist Peggy Noonan observes, “[A leader’s job] is to be better, and to set standards that those below you have to reach to meet.” In that respect, great leaders never act to a standard of conduct based on the lowest common denominator. If that is your practice, what then separates and distinguishes you from those in your charge? On what basis would others choose to follow you?
Leaders need to connect with their coworkers as souls equal and in no way superior in the eyes of our Lord. In addition, they need to acknowledge that they suffer from some of the same behavioral, moral, and physical infirmities that limit all of us. Yet leaders need to balance that humble acknowledgment with the recognition—the obligation, really—that they must radiate a sense of sobriety at the gravity of the responsibilities they have assumed. And they must continue to do this predictably, day after day after day.
Being affable, humble, and dependably responsible at once is a difficult balancing act, and the greater your sphere of responsibilities, the more difficult it becomes. It is akin to witnessing a rare astronomical event, like the transit of Venus we experienced on June 5, 2012, to find an individual who gets the balance right most of the time, but neither organizational leaders nor parent-leaders can ever stop trying. Queen Elizabeth II is adored by her subjects because she understands her job in these three seemingly contrary respects, a royal tripartite of key behaviors, and she carries it out so gloriously, so simply, and thus so majestically.
Some argue that the money spent both in Britain and in the Commonwealth to recognize the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee could have been put to better purpose, especially in the economic downturn. I disagree. The outpouring of affection for the Queen is a measurable reflection of the fact that all benefit–subjects and onlookers alike, from lessons they glean from this intelligent, steadfast, gracious woman’s devotion to the responsibilities she assumed six decades ago.
At the end of the day, Elizabeth no doubt realizes that being a monarch possessed of immense wealth pales in comparison to her most valuable possessions, her good name, her reputation, and her continuous awareness of her subjects’ need for her to follow through on completing her responsibilities with modesty, dignity, and daily sacrifice for the greater good. How very much leaders can learn from this affable, humble, and disciplined monarch—a true royal!