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September 09, 2022

Queen Elizabeth Lessons to Every Business Leader: consistency, power of dress, Ukraine, Brave roots.

Elizabeth as a thoughtful-looking toddler with curly, fair hair - on the cover of Time, April 1929.

Early life

Elizabeth was born at 02:40 (GMT) on 21 April 1926, during the reign of her paternal grandfather, King George V. 

Her father, Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), was the second son of the King. Her mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother), was the youngest daughter of Scottish aristocrat Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, at whose London home (17 Bruton Street, Mayfair) she was delivered by Caesarean section.

She was baptised by the Anglican Archbishop of York, Cosmo Gordon Lang, in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on 29 May, and named Elizabeth after her mother; Alexandra after her paternal great-grandmother, who had died six months earlier; and Mary after her paternal grandmother. Called "Lilibet" by her close family, based on what she called herself at first, she was cherished by her grandfather, George V, whom she affectionately called "Grandpa England", and her regular visits during his serious illness in 1929 were credited in the popular press and by later biographers with raising his spirits and aiding his recovery.

Elizabeth's only sibling, Princess Margaret, was born in 1930. The two princesses were educated at home under the supervision of their mother and their governess, Marion Crawford. Lessons concentrated on history, language, literature, and music. Crawford published a biography of Elizabeth and Margaret's childhood years entitled The Little Princesses in 1950, much to the dismay of the royal family. The book describes Elizabeth's love of horses and dogs, her orderliness, and her attitude of responsibility. Others echoed such observations: Winston Churchill described Elizabeth when she was two as "a character. She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant." Her cousin Margaret Rhodes described her as "a jolly little girl, but fundamentally sensible and well-behaved".

England's Queen Elizabeth II 

At 25, she transformed herself into the monarch her country wanted.

Ukrainian roots

It should not be forgotten that in the 30+ generation Queen Elizabeth is a distant great-granddaughter of the Ukrainian Queen Agatha (daughter of the Kyiv King Yaroslav the Wise), and through the same Yaroslav the Wise (the ancient Ukrainian King) she is a relative of the French Queen Anne, the Norwegian Queen Elizabeth, the Hungarian Queen Anastasia. Ukraine and Britain have strong monarchical common roots.

The power of consistency

There's an important lesson every leader can learn from the example Queen Elizabeth set. Consistency--the ability to do the same job in the same way year after year and decade after decade, even as the world changes around you, has a tremendous power to reassure and inspire those you lead.

The importance of consistency--and of calm, decorum, and the preservation of the monarchy--was drummed into Elizabeth early. Her father only became king because his elder brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated so as to marry divorced American Wallis Simpson. (The couple lived out their lives with the titles Duke and Duchess of Windsor.) The abdication and the scandal surrounding it shook the monarchy to its core.

Not only that, in the decades before and after her birth, one royal European family after another was dethroned, exiled, or even executed, as happened to the Romanovs in Russia. These events underscore a subtle but important truth: We think of monarchs as people who can't be fired, but they only rule for as long as they have the consent and approval of their subjects.

And so, at age 25, Elizabeth transformed herself into the monarch that English people both wanted and needed. She preserved tradition, emotional distance, and the absolute dignity of the throne, even as she was also willing to try new things, such as the first-ever televised coronation, or making a video with Daniel Craig as James Bond to kick off the London Olympics.

She remained constant as everything changed around her. During her reign, much of the Commonwealth--what had once been the imposing British Empire--dwindled as nation after nation declared its independence. She kept her calm demeanor through Prince Charles' troubled marriage to Princess Diana, as the marriage fell apart, and even through Diana's shocking death in a car accident in Paris.

In more recent years, she stayed publicly calm even as politicians dragged her into the struggle over Brexit, as accusations of sexual assault swirled around her son Andrew, and as her grandson, Prince Harry, and his wife Meghan renounced their royal positions and duties and relocated to America, where they gave damning interviews about life in the royal family.


Support of Ukraine

The Queen immediately, at the beginning of russia's armed attack on Ukraine, came out in support of Ukraine, boldly wearing a yellow and blue dress and eloquently demonstrating her position. 

"We will meet again"

Just as her father had at the outbreak of World War II, Elizabeth helped reassure and guide her people at the outbreak of Covid-19 with a rare televised speech. She began by thanking both healthcare workers and British people who were staying home and thus protecting others in their communities. She called on them to strengthen their resolve, reminding them of the challenges Britain had overcome in the past. She said she hoped "those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any." And then she reminded them that better days were ahead. "We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again," she said.

In 70 years as queen, she never let her public image waver. She almost never missed a royal or ceremonial duty, even in the last months of her life. In fact, two days before her death, she held her traditional meeting with a new prime minister, Liz Truss, and formally asked her to form a new government in the queen's name.

"If you live in this sort of life--which people don't very much--you live very much by tradition and by continuity," she said in a rare public comment about her role. "I find that's one of the sad things, that people don't take on jobs for life. They try different things all the time."

A soldier she once praised for his bravery responded, "It was just the training." And that, she said, was an essential point. "I have a feeling that in the end, probably, training is the answer to a great many things. You can do a lot if you're properly trained. And I hope I have been."