Queen Elizabeth was the leader of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s most successful brands, the British Royal Family, for more than 70 years. During her record reign, she held steady to longstanding traditions while modernizing cautiously through the decades. The queen kept her emotions in check and in public spoke positively about the other leaders she met – whether or not she liked them or agreed with their policies. For the Royal Family and the British people, she was the “face of the franchise.”
Looking at the Royal Family as a multimillion-dollar family business that impacts trade, travel, and other facets of the British economy, Queen Elizabeth was indeed a CEO like no other. There are a number of lessons that business owners can learn from her life.
Recognize The Importance of a Global Perspective
As early as 1952, Queen Elizabeth understood the importance and advantages of having a global perspective. She spent seven decades traveling the world on behalf of the British Commonwealth and visited countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific. By all accounts, she enjoyed different cultures, and her trips were often diplomatic efforts to bridge divides and ease tensions. Most of them were considered successes.
CNN reported that the monarch had traveled to 60% of the world’s 196 countries. Among them were Algeria, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Russia , Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Scotland, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United States, Vatican City, and Zambia. According to an estimate by The Telegraph, Elizabeth traveled 1,032,513 miles during her reign.
Stay Positive Through Times of Adversity
One of Queen Elizabeth’s most memorable quotes was a relatively recent one. In April 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic, she addressed her nation in what was at the time only the fifth special TV broadcast that she had made during her seven-decade reign.
“I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasing challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all…
“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.
The then-93-year-old monarch took care to acknowledge the hardships people faced, thank frontline healthcare workers, express pride in her people’s “self-discipline” and “quiet good-humored resolve,” and highlight that brighter days lay ahead.
“While we have faced challenges before, this one is different… Using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal, we will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
A great leader seeks to lift the morale of others. Queen Elizabeth did exactly that as a young woman during World War II and, much later in life, during the COVID pandemic.
Have a Succession Plan
For the Royal Family, which is a family business, after all, the succession plan was already in place and has been for years. But that is not the case for most family-run businesses. In fact, among the challenges for small business succession plans are the drawbacks of the founders themselves.
“The founder may be really good at one aspect of the business (eg creativity / creating products) but not the best leader of the entire business, yet can’t ‘give up’ the leadership,” said Mary Kier, managing partner and co. -leader of global talent advisory firm ZRG’s global consumer practice.
Kier says that oftentimes family-run businesses are worried that no one will steward the business the way the current or former generations would. They also sometimes fear that a non-family successor might be too soft or will insist on Replacing legacy employees. Other times, companies wait until the founder or other family leader is already past his or her prime to look for a successor. In such cases, the leader may not be up on the current trends, and then the business starts to falter.
Thus, Kier says, businesses must start thinking about succession planning, not just for the CEO, but for all members of the executive leadership team. They also must begin mentoring the next level sooner rather than later. Further, family business must be prepared to boldly go forward with new people at the helm. Ultimately, company leaders must be open to hearing new ideas or concepts to bring the business forward and not be surprised that the best ideas can come from non-traditional sources.
“Open your minds to all that is in front of you and the business will not only survive, but thrive,” Kier says. “And always remember the ‘why’ behind the whole reason the family business began in the first place.”
Now, the Royal Family must plot a course to carry on without Queen Elizabeth, who was the CEO of the family business for more than 70 years.
“The Queen was without doubt one of the world’s greatest leaders,” said London-based Richard Draper, a managing director at ZRG’s UK offices. “She ruled with grace and humility, never demanding attention, yet omnipresent — and always with her hand very gently resting on the tiller! She guided Prime Ministers and Presidents. In many ways, she was decades ahead of her time.”
It is important that the successor in any thriving business to plan for the inevitability that individuals must eventually be replaced in order for the company to survive and thrive.
Naturally, most small businesses do not have the vast financial resources as the British Royal Family and often have to secure capital, but there are many business lessons that can be learned from the late British monarch.