As a young US Army cadet I was once told that the definition of leadership was the act of motivating others to do something they otherwise would not want to do. On one level this could be a young lieutenant leading his platoon while assaulting a heavily defended enemy position. On another level this could be a prime minister leading their country to war. The papers recently released on the Falklands War by the Thatcher Foundation reaffirm that Margaret Thatcher was one of the most inspiring leaders of the 21st Century.
This collection of papers is telling for a number of reasons. They show how confusing the situation was immediately following the invasion of the Falkland Islands. They offer a unique insight into the thinking of those close to Margaret Thatcher during this turmoil. Most importantly, however, they show that there is a huge difference between being a "leader" and actually "leading". Although there was clear division, hesitation, and in some cases, outright opposition to her desire to liberate the Falkland Islands, Margaret Thatcher was able to lead the nation to victory in the South Atlantic.
Only a couple of days after Margaret Thatcher went to the House of Commons and told the world, without any doubt or hesitation in her voice, that Britain would liberate the Islands, there were those around her telling her it was not worth it. Some proposed bribing the Islanders to leave the Falklands. Others around her were quite happy for Britain to do nothing at all and acquiesce to Argentina's brutal military junta. There were even those inside the Ministry of Defence telling her that the iIslands could probably not be retaken.
Margaret Thatcher knew that it didn't matter if the islands were seven miles away from Great Britain or 7,000 - the Falkland Islands were British territory. The prime minister was warned that "we are making a big mistake." She was told that the government would make "almighty fools of ourselves" if any attempt was made to retake the Falkland Islands. Nevertheless, Margaret Thatcher knew that, as prime minister, if she didn't stand up to the military junta in Argentina then nobody else would.
History is littered with examples of when world leaders have failed to act. In many cases the consequences of such indecisiveness have been perilous. Margaret Thatcher saw that liberating the 2,000 inhabitants of the Falkland Islands was the right thing to do. More importantly, she recognized that it was her responsibility as leader of the United Kingdom to see the mission through.
These papers offer a valuable lesson for any student of leadership. Perhaps the biggest lesson one can learn is that making the right decision is not necessarily the same as making the most popular decision. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Leadership is about selflessly acting in the best interests of those that you lead, it is about inspiring and motivating those around you to achieve a common goal, and it is about taking responsibility for what goes well and what goes badly.
When Margaret Thatcher dispatched the British task force to the South Atlantic she had no idea if the operation would be successful or how many young men would never return home. However, she knew it was the right thing to do and she was ready to take responsibility either way. Most importantly, she was able to rally parliament and the whole country behind this cause. Margaret Thatcher's resolve, decisiveness and leadership during the Falklands crisis can serve as an example to us all.