The Queen: the epitome of the 'servant leader'


I was lucky enough to meet the Queen on two occasions. They were both as a result of my involvement with Turbosound, a company that designs and manufactures professional loudspeakers, which have been used by bands such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Michael Jackson and many others. The first time was when Turbosound was awarded the Queen’s Award for Export. There was a ceremony at Buckingham Palace to which I and my fellow Directors were invited. it was a short time with her — a quick handshake, "Have you come far?", "What does your company do?" and so on. She was relaxed, warm, and genuinely interested. The second time was when the Queen and Prince Philip were presented with 'the best of Sussex'. at Durrington High School in Worthing, Sussex. This was entirely different. I asked her if she’d like a demonstration of our loudspeakers. She laughed and said "No, you might have better luck with Prince Philip!" who was following along behind her.


So, of course I asked him when he arrived. He also laughed, but he said ‘yes, fine’. We did our party trick of playing the cannon sequence in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which has the effect of blowing out candles 10 feet from the loudspeakers.


And this was the result:


They both had the most wonderful sense of humour, and I think that’s one of the foundations that kept them going for so many years. The Queen took the role she was born into extremely seriously, but she certainly didn’t take herself seriously. To me, she epitomised the ‘servant leader’. There’s no single accepted definition of what it means to be a ‘servant leader’, but these are characteristics that resonate with me:

  • Service — two years after the war ended, five years before ascending to the throne, on her 21st birthday Elizabeth gave a famous speech where she pledged to the British people that, regardless of what happens in the future, she would dedicate her life to serving them. And that’s exactly what she did until the very end. For the next seven decades, she worked almost every day, going up and down the country, doing the unglamorous job of monarchy; attending endless openings of local supermarkets, community swimming pools, libraries and exhibitions like the one above.

  • Honouring others — Albert Einstein once said, “I speak to everyone the same way, whether he is a garbage man or the president of the university.” This simple statement perfectly encapsulates the concept of purposefully honouring others before yourself. The Queen demonstrated genuine respect for all people. Respect defines the underlying attitude of a servant leader.

  • Empowering others — “It’s amazing what you can achieve if you don’t care who gets the credit.” This quote by former President Harry S. Truman exemplifies how leaders achieve their greatest success - through the empowerment of the people surrounding them. Again, she did that frequently, most recently crediting Paddington Bear!

  • Listening — listening receptively to what is being said and unsaid. Listening also encompasses hearing one’s own inner voice. Listening, coupled with periods of reflection, is essential to the growth and well-being of the servant leader. As so many people have said, and as I experienced, she was genuinely interested in others.

  • Empathy — the servant leader strives to understand and empathise with others. People are accepted and recognised for their special and unique spirits. The Queen met countless people in her lifetime; over and over again they, (as can I), attested to ‘feeling seen and heard’.

  • Awareness — general awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant leader. Awareness lends itself to being able to view most situations from a more integrated, holistic position. Again, the Queen demonstrated this throughout her life, none more so than her inspirational speech during the COVID pandemic.


She also consistently demonstrated:

  • Duty — doing things she’d rather not do, because it needed to be done and there’s no better candidate than yourself, so you do it anyway.

  • Stoicism — it can’t be easy being Queen, but her mantra was famously, “Never complain, never explain”. She never allowed her personal feelings to get in the way of the job.

  • Moderation — even though she was one of the richest women in the world, one never got the feeling from her that she was that fussed about luxury. Yes, she lived in a palace (and a castle), but that was only for stately reasons. Though she dressed nicely, they were handmade dresses made by a dressmaker nobody had ever heard of, they weren’t flashy designer labels.

  • Impartiality — she always served whatever political party was in power to the best of her abilities, whatever her personal preferences might have been. She reigned for seven decades without offering the public the slightest whiff of what her real political opinions were. She worked with 15 UK Prime Ministers and 14 US Presidents of all stripes - and they all loved and respected her.

  • Continuity — she reigned for 70 years. This means she was on the throne before most living Britons were born, reassuringly so.

So, this is my small contribution to the quite-rightly deserved praise, admiration and respect that’s been expressed since the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever your views are on the monarchy, she was an outstanding leader, from whom I believe we can all learn a huge amount.

 

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