The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has unleashed a tidal wave of admiration and affection in Britain and around the world. Why does the Queen have such a special place in the hearts of so many? Why has her life had such an influence for good?
What can we learn from her? Here are four lessons for leaders from the life and example of Her Majesty.
1. Wise leaders exercise restraint.
In his tribute to the Queen, Keir Starmer, leader of Britain’s Labour party, said, “Above the clashes of politics, she stood not for what the nation fought over, but what it agreed upon.” Representing what unites people calls for restraint. The Queen has modeled this throughout her remarkable reign.
During the campaign leading up to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, Prime Minister David Cameron became anxious over the outcome and sought the Queen’s help. Scottish independence is a deeply divisive issue, a matter on which the Queen would surely have held a strong opinion. The prime minister knew it would have been inappropriate for Her Majesty to openly advocate a position on this issue, but perhaps, he suggested, she could raise an eyebrow even a quarter of an inch?
Above the clashes of politics, she stood not for what the nation fought over, but what it agreed upon.
I suspect the Queen’s eyebrow was raised rather more than a quarter of an inch when she heard the prime minister’s request. But whatever she may have wished to say, she exercised restraint. In the long, fierce, and divisive debate over independence, the only comment she made was that she hoped the Scottish people would “think very carefully” about the vote.
Wise church leaders will take a similar approach. They discern what unites the people they lead, and, at times, they choose to exercise restraint because they know they cannot bring people together if they take strong positions on issues that would pull them apart.
2. Influence and example are more enduring than power.
Power in Britain lies with the prime minister and the elected government. Each new session of parliament opens with “The Queen’s Speech,” in which the government lays out its planned program of legislation.
The Queen didn’t write these speeches. She simply read the scripts she was given, and there must have been times when this was difficult for her. How would you like to read a speech announcing plans with which you may privately disagree that will be pursued in your name?
The levers of power were in the hands of the government, not the Queen. But the Queen has had a more constant influence on the people she’s led than any of the prime ministers had who came and went during her long reign. Often those prime ministers lived to see policies they fought hard to implement reversed by their successors. But the Queen’s influence and example have remained.
Leadership structures in churches vary widely, but whatever the structure, it’s easy (and perhaps natural) for pastors to think they need more power to lead effectively. The Queen’s life reminds us that influence and example can be more enduring than power.
3. Hard work and humility earn respect.
In a speech made on her 21st birthday, the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) pledged her commitment to duty in these memorable words: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”
Ponder that commitment. The Queen devoted her life to a single purpose. She identified that purpose as a young woman. She gave herself to it, stayed with it, and never deviated from it.
The Queen devoted her life to a single purpose. She identified that purpose as a young woman. She gave herself to it, stayed with it, and never deviated from it.
As the future sovereign, Princess Elizabeth could have said her whole life would be devoted to reigning, leading, or casting vision. But the word she chose was “service,” and in choosing that word, she followed the example of the King of kings who came into the world to serve.
The Queen lived up to her promise. She was a relentlessly hard worker. Her whole life, which turned out to be very long, was devoted to serving. Just two days before her death, the Queen was on duty, receiving Britain’s new prime minister and inviting her to form a government.
4. Bonds of affection deepen over time.
The Queen was the longest-serving monarch in British history, and the decades of her reign have been marked by relentless change. But the Queen’s continuing presence, and the unchanging values she represented, gave her people a sense of stability in an increasingly uncertain world.
Serving in one position for 70 years is a remarkable achievement by any standard. Few will have the opportunity to emulate what the Queen has done. But the lesson of her longevity speaks to all who lead: love and loyalty cannot be demanded, but they can be won.
The Queen won the hearts of her people through her own love and loyalty demonstrated over many years, and over time, the Queen’s people returned the love and loyalty she gave.
A congregation knows if their pastor loves them. They discern the difference between a leader who is loyal to the flock and one whose eye is on the next opportunity. But where people are deeply loved and humbly served, strong bonds of affection are formed over time.
The Queen won a special place in the hearts of the people she served because they saw her restraint, hard work, and loving care. Those of us to whom the Lord has granted positions of leadership would do well to follow her example.