Three of the Best Business Tips Margaret Thatcher Taught Me

I had always been taught that one’s political viewpoints were to be discussed at home and not in the workplace. No easy feat considering that I spent three years at the onset of my career working in part to recognize world leaders aboard the moored USS Intrepid in New York City.  Indeed, I do believe in peaceful co-existence and honoring the men and women who have helped to defend my freedoms.

So, almost twenty years ago when my boss tasked me with a leading role in planning an event to honor The Right Honorable Baroness Margaret Thatcher, I put aside any preconceived notions. After all, I was an impressionable 23 year old who spent portions of her childhood practicing cold war ‘drills’ under her desk in school and remembers vividly the “Argoesque” era of tying yellow ribbons around my family’s oak tree in solidarity for the U.S. hostages in Tehran.

I watched with wide eyes and ears that could only detect silence in the room other than the voice of one person, Thatcher delivering remarks to 15 people at a luncheon.

When an opportunity presented itself for me to introduce myself to the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I did so as “Jenny.”  Thatcher asked my age and my job responsibilities. I was surprised when she pursed her lips in the middle of my explanation. I paused, she complimented my ‘interesting necklace’ and took my hand asking me to start again with my formal name. From that moment on, I realized that I needed to deliver messages with the same level of conviction that the world leader in front of me did so.

Tip #1:Own your pitch. One of Thatcher’s own mantras of “If you set out to be liked, you will accomplish nothing” should resonate strongly with those who are not currently speaking up during discussions. Whether you are a manager or aspiring to be one, the most effective way to get your messaging across is to deliver it with conviction. When you convey a message with purpose, you are almost certainly increasing your chances of being heard and your ideas considered.

Tip #2: Collaborate but Expect Discourse. In the world of international relations, Thatcher certainly collaborated. Whether with Reagan or Gorbachev, much has been written about her reign to help end the Cold War. But, not every position she took was populist and sometimes isolated her. How does this translate to business? A friend who is a marketing executive expressed her concern that she is spending too much time ‘monitoring in her own silo.’ Monitoring doesn’t mean being a follower instead of a leader; it does mean you need to recognize you do not need to glam onto every trend.

How can you collaborate? You need to make the time to meet with others. You can plan and organize your own thoughts but do not lose sight that the path to creativity involves working together to achieve your set goals. Try to set a weekly meeting about one potential project. If the potential project is in its nascent state, your collaboration can save you time in the long run. You can define milestones on research and analysis and determine that the project is/is not a worthwhile endeavor.

Tip #3 Contemplate. Margaret Thatcher was a strong, disciplined leader not unlike a college roommate I had who was an artist. Sometimes, the rest of us would be in the living room reading our various school books and she would have her sketch book and a piece of charcoal. An hour or two would pass and she would never move from her spot, sometimes drawing and other times just deep in thought.

How do you take time to contemplate?

Leaders take time to tune out the rest of the ‘noise,’ and just simply think. Remember, contemplating does not involve being fast and furious but rather thinking through an issue with limited distractions.

Finally, in partial jest, I was honored to have met such a powerful leader whose statement pins and hats matched my statement necklaces.  And, note to those who know me well, especially from the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I resided for many years, I’ll always be Jenny from the Block except this month it just happens that my family and I moved 1,700 miles away to Austin, Texas.

bankston_imageJennifer S. Bankston is the former Chief Marketing Officer of law firm Labaton Sucharow LLP in New York, NY.