Based on The Iron Lady:
- How would you describe Margaret Thatcher as a leader, including her role, characteristics, and towards what was her attempt to “move” her followers.
- A description of her followers, including their predisposition/attitudes towards the leaders and situations.
- What is her leadership style and how her style is or is not appropriated given the situation and the characteristics of the followers?
- Identify and explain Margaret Thatcher's weaknesses, challenges or potential areas for improvement as a leader.
- Finally, what is the difference in leadership style between Margaret Thatcher in the “Iron Lady” and Erin Brockovich in Erin Brockovich?
In The Iron Lady, Thatcher is seen as a strict leader who follows a "top- down" management style. Essential to Thatcher's characterization is her need to lead when political leaders failed to do so and when women were encouraged not to enter the political realm. This is seen at different points in the narrative, such as when Thatcher speaks to Denis about her reservations regarding marriage: "Beyond all the cooking and the cleaning and the children. One's life must mean more than that. I cannot die washing up a teacup! I mean it, Denis. Say you understand." Thatcher recognizes that her will and commitment to her beliefs is where political leadership lies.
Thatcher is shown as a leader who understood her own need to act and the concerns of others did not merit primacy. She embodies this trait in both political and personal aspects. She is shown to not display affection towards her family and her political opponents. Even within her own party and cabinet, her leadership style is authoritarian, almost to a fault. Thatcher disregards the changing political and social dynamic with her dismissiveness shown in issues such as the public's response to Community Charge and her defiance towards European Integration. The callous manner with which she treats Geoffrey Howe and others who questioned her leadership style reflects a leadership style where such brazenness inspired polarizing views. The film does not make a definite moral judgment towards Thatcher as much as display her "iron" will as a political leader and human being. The film is open in how it asserts that Thatcher's weaknesses was her ability to recognize the voice of others in her political decisions and her personal actions. Thatcher, herself, is reminded of this when Denis's spirit tells her that "You'll be fine on your own, love. You always have been." The film asserts that one of Thatcher's weaknesses was her lack of need of anyone or anything outside of herself.
The film shows a British political landscape where the will to act was lacking. It is here in which Thatcher's leadership style was effective for its context. This becomes clear in a discussion with her friend, Airey Neave: "If you want to change this party, lead it. If you want to change the country, lead it." The will to act is what inspired her followers. Thatcher is shown as a leader who is not afraid to act. The film shows this in detail. Her decision to invade the Falklands, her hardline against unions, and her unwillingness to move from her fiscally conservative monetary policies are all a part of this leadership style. Its effect on her followers was to galvanize them into action, for they recognized in Thatcher what they lacked. They understood that Thatcher's will to act was what they, themselves, lacked. Thatcher is shown as a leader who gives voice to those who lack it, and give direction to a nation that seemed to need it. Her followers flocked to this trait in her leadership style.
A significant difference between Thatcher's leadership style and the manner of leading people shown in Erin Brockovich existed in how both viewed different narratives. Thatcher looked at difference that needed to be quashed and repressed for her own view. Brockovich is shown as someone who gains strength in bringing others' narratives into focus. Her leadership style is validated through the presence of others, while Thatcher goes out of her way to deny such aspects of difference.