Leadership lessons from Queen Elizabeth II

Ascribe it to the ironic times in which we live that a world torn apart by aggression, strife, war, and divided so deeply along regional, communal and class lines, where the havoc caused by the Covid pandemic coupled with ferocious natural disasters have sent several nations reeling under a great economic shock, over 400 world leaders came together in solemn solidarity last month. Irrespective of the various hues of differences they wear on their sleeves, they came together in a respectful and dignified group to pay their homage to the British Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away at the age of 96.

Even more ironic, the woman in whose memory they stood so respectfully, did not wield any great political power to draw them in. In fact she was often berated and criticised strongly for being a symbol of the dark colonial power that the British empire had once wielded, and the atrocities it had inflicted, on so many countries, including India. History is replete with the dark deeds of the British empire that looted and impoverished its colonies, while torturing thousands of its “native subjects”.

And yet, that very Britain, which went on to form the Commonwealth of nations and head it, was represented by the Queen with such equanimity, dignity, charisma and grace… all the elements that come so magically together to form what is called the “soft power” of a person, that her passing away left most of the world reeling under a feeling of irreparable loss. And it wasn’t mourning of the kind we saw erupting for Princess Diana, who was snatched away in the prime of her life by a gruesome road accident. If there was ever an untimely death, that was it. But the Queen had lived a full life… nine decades and more.

The legacy Elizabeth leaves behind for world leaders to ponder over and emulate is the stoic and dignified manner in which public resentment, criticism, and brickbats can be handled, without losing one’s sense of calmness. Another lesson she leaves behind is that when acrimony is at its dizzy high, silence can do a lot to tide over the storm. Her total lack of arrogance and anger, at least in public, holds a valuable lesson too. Of course, it can be argued that all this was ingrained into her by relentless tutoring and training over long years, and especially once it was known that she would be a future Queen of England. Unfortunately, in today’s politics, neither education, training nor a sense of decency and dignity are considered prerequisite for leadership roles.

Small wonder then that today’s world is throwing up fewer and fewer leaders at the helm of nations who can draw unadulterated respect, affection and admiration.

Isn’t it saddening to think that the brand of mystique and magic that the British Queen spontaneously generated, through her mere presence and persona, might be something that is disappearing…

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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