Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Leadership Lessons From Queen Elizabeth II

Alastair Grant/AP

The past few days in London have marked the Diamond Jubilee celebrating the 60th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s been a pomp and circumstance extravaganza, and the members of the Royal Family have all had parts to play.

One thing the Windsors appear to understand better than anyone is that appearances matter for people in leadership roles – ceremonial or otherwise. This point was brilliantly summarized in a New York Times article over the weekend called The Outfits That Say “The Queen.” The piece opens with a line that the Queen is reported to have said in private: “I have to be seen to be believed.”

It’s a sneakily smart observation because it goes beyond what you would typically think of when you hear that someone or some thing has to be seen to be believed. The idea usually means that something is so over the top that you literally have to see it to believe it. In the case of Queen Elizabeth, I think it tells us that she completely understands that any belief in the value of the British monarchy is dependent on the image that she (and her family) project.

In The Next Level, I encourage leaders to pick up a big footprint view of their role and let go of a small footprint view. As the events of the past week illustrate, the Queen takes the impact of her footprint seriously. So, there is literally only one Queen of England, but if you dial the pageantry back, I think there are some applicable lessons from Queen Elizabeth for leaders in any walk of life:


  • Appearance matters. You may argue that it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter, but how you put yourself together sends a message and makes a difference in how people view you. In the case of Elizabeth, the Times article explains that when she inherited the throne from her father George VI, “The young queen needed an easily identifiable signature… The formula she arrived at … was of a series of simple shapes and color blocks. The pastel rectangle of her customary coat and the bright disk of a matching hat… would say the queen even if the queen wasn’t in the outfit.” A non-royal example of this dynamic was the black turtleneck and jeans that became Steve Jobs’ sartorial symbol. I’m not arguing that you as a leader should wear a “uniform,” but I am saying that you need to consider the message you’re sending through your appearance and make informed choices to reinforce the desired message.
  • What you say and how you say it matters. Queen Elizabeth does a lot of public speaking. She may not be the most exciting speaker the world has ever seen, but she is always on message. That requires thought and preparation. It’s worth at least a few minutes of your time to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. The Queen doesn’t wing it and neither should you.
  • Showing up matters. Stop and think about two things for a moment. First, how often do you see Queen Elizabeth on TV? The woman does a lot of public appearances. Second, in case you didn’t know it, she is 86 years old! The Queen’s job is to basically show up and make a good impression. At 86, she is definitely getting it done. Sometimes being a leader can feel like a drag because it gets tiresome to always “be on stage” (which you always are if you’re a leader). The next time you’re feeling like phoning it in or skipping it, think of Queen Elizabeth and show up fully.

What else is there for leaders to learn from Queen Elizabeth II?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.