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What made Margaret Thatcher special in her time

Margaret Thatcher's leadership qualities were essential for Britain and the world of the 1980s, but her failings also provide lessons for leaders today.

In this 1985 photo, then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher meets with President Ronald Reagan during a visit to the White House.

AP Photo

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Of the few women who led a nation during the 20th century, Margaret Thatcher stood out more than most. Her leadership qualities were so remarkable at the time that, even though she resigned as Britain’s prime minister more than two decades ago, her actions and style are still debated well into this century.

Her passing on Monday comes as new concepts about what makes a good leader take hold in government and business. Many people still look for inspiring, towering figures, of course, to guide them through wars, recessions, and big changes. They admire people who speak of principle and act with certitude – and occasional humor – as “the Iron Lady” did. In that sense, she was much like her American counterpart of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan. Both are known as “transformative” figures in recent political history.

Her commanding presence and her spine of virtue helped Thatcher stand up to the powerful miners union, the Argentine military in the Falklands War, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Soviet Union. She muscled through conservative economic changes in a hidebound Britain. And she began the long project to restore the morale of a country lost in post-empire malaise.


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