THE BLOG

Leadership Lessons From the British Royal Family

07/24/2013 09:13 am ET | Updated Sep 23, 2013

With the birth of the newest heir to the British throne, world eyes are once again on the Royal Family.

The British monarchy is one of the oldest known institutions and represents one of the most traditional forms of leadership. However, in the last couple decades it has faced challenges similar to those plaguing other long-standing institutions such as banks, churches, hospitals, governments, and higher education. Namely, there have been scandals and increased public scrutiny; a radically different environment where old rules cease to apply; and a struggle to maintain relevance to a young generation that embraces new ventures more so than established ones.

However, in the last few years, the British monarchy has recaptured the interest and respect of those in the UK and beyond.

So, what can leaders learn from the British Royal family about staying relevant, restoring trust and dealing with new challenges?

As an avid Royal watcher and also director of a leadership center, I offer the following:

Don't rely on title to cultivate influence. Today, people can choose whom they follow and a title doesn't guarantee a following. The Royals conscientiously use their positions in creative ways to help their country. Formal authority is insufficient, so they focus instead on demonstrating their value and leadership worthiness through deliberate and thoughtful actions. In modern institutions, leadership is now based less on position and title. There may be those in leadership positions. But truly effective leadership is about influencing those in positions above, peers, and direct reports, regardless of title.

Show others who you are and what you are about. The Royals more openly display their emotions nowadays. William and Kate prove that one can still represent the institution well while sharing their joys, excitement, values, and aspirations. In doing so, the British people relate to and celebrate with them. While decorum is always in, stiffness is out. Leaders need to recognize that emotion can be a strength. Displaying joy, passion, excitement, and hope is not only infectious, it can create a deeper sense of connectedness with followers.

Keep the common touch. The higher up on the leadership chain, the tougher it is to be perceived as in touch. Kate and William don't just have the common touch, they try to live a common life. The British people have seen them do their own grocery shopping and keep their own house. Stepping in their people's shoes has endeared them and made them more connected to their followers. Leaders should identify and share the commonalities that they have with their employees and customers.

Collaborate with other leaders. Although highly prominent on the world stage, the Royals recognize that they are part of a larger leadership system that includes the British Parliament. An interdependency exists through the system that requires a co-leadership mentality. The Queen has always had a collaborative relationship with the Prime Minister in spite of disagreements that may arise. Organizations today face far more complex issues than prior decades and need to foster a leadership system rather than rely on a superstar leader. Leaders need to take a collaborative approach with those around them.

Be selective and fearless about what you change. This year, the Queen radically changed the thousand-year-old law on the line of succession because it no longer made sense. William and Kate's baby, regardless of gender, will be heir to the throne. Plenty of other traditions remain including primogeniture -- in place for the sake of order. Instead of trying to change everything or hold on to every tradition, leaders should judiciously pick and choose a few things that would make key differences.

Two mainstays of the Royals that continue to bolster their credibility throughout the ages are their sense of duty and their resilience.
The Queen and her predecessors have always been duty-bound and know they represent their greater institution in every action. They see themselves as servants of the people and stewards of their country.

The Royals have also been adept at dealing with setbacks and factors beyond their control. From tragedies to embarrassing photos, they bounce back from failings and personal disappointments. They know that failure to do so is not an option.

Leaders today need to build these perspectives into their mindsets.

The British monarchy has found a place in our modern age for good reason. And it looks like it's here to stay. What can you do to be more royal-like in your leadership?