THE BLOG
01/24/2012 05:40 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2012

What Did You Take Away From The Iron Lady ?

The Iron Lady was recently released in the UK, and I was particularly interested in seeing it in London because I know so little about Margaret Thatcher. I went in not knowing anything about the plot of the movie, so I was quite surprised to find that her story was told through flashback. I had been expecting more straightforward biopic details, but instead I found a story of the older Margaret Thatcher, aged and hallucinating, and I felt the story at times was a heavy advertisement for work-life balance.

I do not need to elaborate about Meryl Streep's incredible performance, because you can find testament in reviews of the movie or pictures of Streep at the Golden Globes. Some loved the flashback format that added a dramatized slant to the classic biopic. Others disliked the dementia aspect, commenting that it felt irreverent. Yet one angle I never considered was the light the movie threw on Margaret Thatcher's leadership style until I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review. The article commented that the determination that got Thatcher to the highest position of government would turn into a stubbornness that prevented collaboration and consensus building and ultimately resulted in the 1990 leadership crisis. The author, INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra, used the adage "what got you here won't get you there," presumably a reference to the Marshall Goldsmith book about workplace habits that hold you back from success.

The article was timely because my boss had just recommended the Goldsmith book to me as a possible tool in understanding how skills that I have built to date might adapt and grow. I have found over the past year that a number of qualities that got me through school and the first years of working -- motivation, work ethic, determination, conviction -- are not inexhaustible sources of energy. But how do I adapt those skills for the new challenges that an advancing career demands? How do I adapt those skills for a career that makes room for a fulfilling personal life? The Thatcher example raises the stakes on making sure that the skills that are lauded in the first part of your career are not the inhibitors of your later career. The article was also a good reminder that pushing to accomplish and achieve one's agenda can be damaging in the long term -- a good counterpoint to the empowerment rhetoric given to the young professional set.

What behaviors are sustainable and which ones are not? For me, the first behavior that came to mind when reading the HBR article was my determination to get to the right answer in the work place. This quality can be commendable, but I have found that my insistence can quickly turn into unnecessary skepticism. Not commendable. So I have Amazoned Goldsmith's book, and we'll see. But I encourage the exercise -- will what got you here get you there?