Who Are Your Enemies?

If we as leaders are going to build our culture and create a process, we will find resistance along the way. 

During a conversation with the Queen of England, then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher discussed adding some younger, fresher faces to her cabinet who would be more loyal to her new budget agenda. The Queen, offering her advice, mentioned that one might not want to stir things up in government or make enemies. Thatcher responded, “Unless one is comfortable having enemies.”  Then she quoted the “No Enemy” poem written by Charles Mackay.   

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You've hit no traitor on the hip,
You've dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You've never turned the wrong to right,
You've been a coward in the fight.

Thatcher was not afraid of confrontation. She was self-aware as a leader, cognizant that her radical transformation of the government would face huge opposition. Thatcher ignored the conventional approach of trying to get important things done without making enemies and focused solely on accomplishing her agenda, regardless of whom it might offend. 

We can learn a great deal from Thatcher’s willingness to be comfortable with enemies.  She had a clear direction of where she needed to take the country, even though it was unpopular at the time. She had a vision that she stuck to, despite what was being said in the papers or radio. She never let distractions affect her process and forged strong relationships with people who mattered and would help her cause. She took advice and counsel from a small group but had the final say. As a sole decision-maker and confident leader, she laid down her priorities and policies and expected everyone to follow without question. She made sure her goals were achieved with her direction and control. Finally, and above all else, Thatcher had complete confidence, not arrogance, in what she saw as the solutions. 

If we as leaders are going to build our culture and create a process, we will find resistance along the way. This won't stop us alone, but how we handle the resistance might. Next time we fear enemies might arise, let’s refer to Charles Mackay's poem and read those words. They’ll keep us on the right track. 

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