Remembering Queen Elizabeth, the most famous ambulance driver of them all

Setting the example: 4 leadership traits Queen Elizabeth demonstrated

Queen Elizabeth’s death on Sept. 8, 2022, marked the end of a 70-year reign – the longest of any British monarch and the longest of any female head of state.

I would like to thank all those who sent their condolences and best wishes to me, as your token British friend. It always struck me that, while there are many queens currently on their thrones around the planet, when one talks about “the Queen” we all instantly knew it was Elizabeth II.  Her poise, grace and dignity steadied a nation, a commonwealth and occasionally a world. Presidents and prime ministers have come and gone (14 American presidents and 15 British prime ministers, to be exact), but Elizabeth Windsor has been present in all our lives. The loss felt has been planetary. Her selfless, stoic devotion to her people, across her realm, was the character of a true leader.

We all know, she had her moments with children and grandchildren, happy and glorious, as well as upsetting and shocking. As the matriarchal head of her family and her commonwealth, she endured and steered all with a deep-seated knowledge, wisdom of her years and desire to keep everyone close and protected.

Princess Elizabeth seated at the driving wheel of an ambulance in April 1945.
Princess Elizabeth seated at the driving wheel of an ambulance in April 1945. (Photo/Associated Press)

Her life offers us valuable lessons and takeaways as we try to cope, survive and thrive. Here are four that resonate with me as a leader.

1. Presence

The possession of a crown, a throne, guards and cavalry may make you a monarch, but that alone does not inspire your nation. As a leader of any kind, having the corner office, the white shirt and the gold badge signifies appointment and seniority, but that does not instill confidence and sense of purpose in those around you. As a leader,  presence is key.

Leadership by example, management by walking about, reaching out, listening to the team and offering encouragement are all skills the Queen exuded. When presidents around the planet were getting in their armored cars, Elizabeth took to the streets, met the people, connected and inspired. Are you locked away or visible and accessible?

2. Understanding

Every week of her 70-year reign, Elizabeth had an audience with her prime minister to hear news of the business of state; and she spent countless hours reading official government papers delivered to her daily in the UK's famous red dispatch boxes. While, as queen, she had no elected political power, she was interested and informed. Our takeaway is clear, that learning and understanding are and must be a daily occurrence. Ignorance is simply not bliss, but being engaged and involved is.

3. Wisdom

Queen Elizabeth’s first prime minister was perhaps, the second greatest living Briton, Winston Churchill. After the sudden death of her father, Churchill stepped in to provide and continue Elizabeth’s education in matters of state. His mentorship contributed to the outlook, knowledge and understanding of a new young queen. Over the years, she too paid that forward to world leaders, generals and humble industrious citizens.

If you can mentor someone in your organization, do it now. Understand that life goes on and our mission must be to prepare those that follow to step up, take over and lead from the front. Use the wisdom you have gained to futureproof your organization.

4. Humor and warmth

As Paddington Bear and James Bond will testify ( if you haven’t seen those viral cameos she took part in, look them up immediately!), Queen Elizabeth was renowned for having an enthusiastic sense of humor. Not the humor that makes fun of or ridicules, but humor that had a warmth that radiates, and a smile that inspired. Her ability to laugh at herself and with others (definitely not to laugh at others) is an example to all. Try this at home and work today. Don’t be the leader that only shows up when something is wrong, be there to encourage, elevate and enthuse all the time.

The commissioning scroll, presented to graduates from the Royal Military Academy, is signed by Queen Elizabeth, placing her “trust and confidence" in commissioned officers' "loyalty, courage and good conduct.”
The commissioning scroll, presented to graduates from the Royal Military Academy, is signed by Queen Elizabeth, placing her “trust and confidence" in commissioned officers' "loyalty, courage and good conduct.” (Photo/Rob Lawrence)

I, like many, will never forget Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor. Pride of place in my home office is the commissioning scroll, presented to me when I graduated from the Royal Military Academy, signed by Her Majesty as I became a second lieutenant in the British Army. Part of that proclamation placed her “trust and confidence in your loyalty, courage and good conduct” as I served my soldiers. Fortunately, I had a fine example to follow. As a ruler, monarch and leader, her loyalty, courage and conduct inspired confidence, and promoted unity and comfort to a nation, commonwealth and. occasionally, globe.

As we transition from Queen to King, we know that Charles III cannot fill her shoes, but we hope he will follow in her footsteps. 

Perhaps, a final lesson to us is tied up with her WW2 service. At 18, then-princess Elizabeth joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, training as a mechanic and military first aid truck driver.

She did not hide away in exile or behind a closed door. Like her father, King George, she was out in the thick of it every day, setting the example and leading the way and she, for one, didn’t mind being called an ambulance driver!

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