Margaret Hilda Thatcher was the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990. She became the first female Head of Cabinet in European history and the first party leader in British history to win parliamentary elections three times and thus form three governments. Margaret Thatcher gained a reputation as the “iron lady”: her work was based on hierarchy, accountability, and high personal responsibility (Fallon 2017, 15). This paper aims to examine the leadership of Margaret Thatcher using a transactional leadership theory.
Margaret Thatcher’s leadership style, which best characterizes her character, was close to transactional. She was a confident politician: reasonable, logical, clever, and decisive. The Falklands War, the IRA conflict, and difficult relations with the USSR are a small part of what the Prime Minister had to face (Fallon 2017, 32). Thatcher understood the need to change the model of previous development of Great Britain. In combination with her intuition and the ability to navigate the situation, this practical skill gave rise to the development of Thatcherism, a form of British conservative ideology. Margaret Thatcher was nicknamed the “iron lady” for her perseverance and constant criticism of the Soviet leadership (Chochia et al. 2018, 124). However, she preferred to call herself a “politician of persuasion”, based on the fact that she consistently followed the general neoliberal approach.
As a transactional leader, Thatcher was endowed with the characteristics of courage, firmness, and determination. She was not characterized by softness, flexibility, the ability to compromise, or the search for the most acceptable line of conduct in politics (Arenas 2019, 21). The reason for such behavior was that she often had to be the first. If she had to decide without any complications, she simply set out her positions at the beginning, which ensured the desired result. Her transactional leadership style can be confirmed by the example of her relationship with the Cabinet, where she kept only those people she needed and often dismissed ministers without even explaining the reasons. Moreover, she was a strong defender of monetarism, limiting the activities of trade unions to a strict framework of laws. At the end of her reign, Thatcher also extended her strict policy to the social field.
Transactional political leaders use their knowledge, as well as government and legal authorities, to achieve certain performance results. Margaret Thatcher guided and motivated her subordinates to achieve their goals, clarifying the requirements for their roles and tasks. She adopted the country that was on the verge of collapse, and, thanks to her leadership style, left behind an economically strong country with a noticeably better position in the world (Chochia et al. 2018, 122). During her first election campaign, she promised the people of England to reduce inflation, create a new industry and trade, and reform the social security system. She promised to restore the prosperity of her country and kept her promises. That is why many people consider her one of the greatest prime ministers in British history.
When Argentina attempted to seize the Falkland Islands, decisive action by the British Prime Minister followed. In response to the attack, 98 ships and 8,000 soldiers were sent to the conflict area (Bruni 2018, 142). Starting the hostilities, the Argentine government hoped that Margaret Thatcher, who had recently come to power in a weakened, crisis-ridden country, would not defend the islands located in the distant South Atlantic. They did not expect such decisive actions from the new Prime Minister. After all, the importance of the islands was not great, and by getting involved in this war in the event of an unsuccessful outcome, Margaret Thatcher risked her career. However, the outcome of the confrontation for the Falkland Islands meant much more than it might seem at first glance.
It was the line between success and failure, between self-confidence and confusion for the millions of British people. It was the line between sliding into the abyss or the beginning of a rebirth. For the implementation of the planned transformations, it was necessary to have a winning mindset, not defeatism (Arenas 2019, 29). The country felt that it could not only suffer defeat but also win. According to many observers, the victory in the Falkland Islands ensured Thatcher a complete victory in the 1984 second election (Bruni 2018, 145). This situation can serve a lesson and be useful even nowadays in a military career. The decisive qualities of a leader get the country out of the most difficult situation.
Margaret Thatcher’s leadership style was unique since it reflected a new approach to solving the most important state problems. She introduced a fundamentally new philosophy of management into the political life of the country, which was called Thatcherism. Only the most significant leaders could leave behind not only what they accomplished but also the special approach to management recognized by all, which became the basis of their success. The assertion that leadership can only be provided by non-standard decisions finds convincing confirmation in the case of Margaret Thatcher. Indeed, she made decisions based on her vision of the development paths of a particular managerial situation, which was fundamentally different from the one that existed before her.
Arenas, Fil J. 2019. A Casebook of Transformational and Transactional Leadership. Oxfordshire: Routledge.
Bruni, Domenico Maria. 2018. “A Leader at War: Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands Crisis of 1982.” Observatoire de la Société Britannique 20: 135-57. Web.
Chochia, Archil, David Ramiro Troitiño, Tanel Kerikmäe, and Olga Shumilo. 2018. “Enlargement to the UK, the Referendum of 1975 and Position of Margaret Thatcher.” In Brexit, edited by Archil Chochia, 115-39. Cham: Springer. Web.
Fallon, Janet L. 2017. A Communication Perspective on Margaret Thatcher: Stateswoman of the Twentieth Century. Lanham: Lexington Books.