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"Making the best job you can": Thoughts on the late Queen Elizabeth II, gender and leadership

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

Perhaps like some or many of you, at some point during Thursday, September 8th, were alerted that the late Queen Elizabeth II was under “medical supervision” and “resting comfortably” in Balmoral. For me, it made me jump to BBC, and linger with the ominous and somber tones of BBC announcers, slowly repeating these words, breaking to royal commentators, “hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.”

Of course, we were being prepared for, I learned later for the eventuality of, that, recalling the oft-sung nursery rhyme, “London Bridge is down.” And yet, when suddenly, the BBC read the Palace announcement that the Queen had died peacefully, I was stunned, saddened, tearing up.

I have, perhaps like some or many of you, a complex relationship with the intricate, historical, political, economic, social and cultural linkages that connect me, Indian-descended, British-born and Canadian-raised, to the legacies of imperial exploitation and plunder and racist, colonial ideologies that the Queen and the monarchy symbolizes, which I wrote about on the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee three months ago.

Undoubtedly, for many, those legacies continue to haunt and traumatize. But for me, and for others, as I have heard from family members, read in obituaries and commentaries, the Queen has symbolized the epitome of “servant leadership,” as some have argued, of duty above self, about humility and commitment and ‘traditional values,’ so oppositional to our late-modern age of self-aggrandizing narcissism and celebrity.

Indeed, I wonder how the Queen’s leadership, which she arguably had to acquire “on the job,” and "making the best job" of it that she could, since her own education and experience was very informal and limited before her Coronation, reflects what the literature describe as a gendered leadership style. This includes competencies as I already mentioned, humility, but also the ability to listen, to communicate, to empathize and demonstrate care for others, at which many seem commentators, including ‘ordinary people’ who had the opportunity to meet her, have marvelled. For, it shouldn’t be forgotten, while the Queen has been fortunate to have dealt with a number of female UK Prime Ministers, including appointing the most recent one, Liz Truss, just days before her death, she’s had to listen to, council and respond to the demands of largely male British Prime Ministers and other leaders and heads of government for decades.

Perhaps that, in the days of ahead of (inter)national mourning and funereal spectacle and the already copious stories about the potential leadership of the new King, we might appreciate as the late Queen’s most lasting legacy.

Chris Levine / Rob Munday ã Jersey Heritage Trust

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