all the queen's horses

All the Queen’s Horses: A Leadership Lesson from Elizabeth II

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I came across a new term in the days following the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II – “moral authority.” It is used to describe the late Queen’s extraordinary influence during her long reign as British Monarch.

She was only ten years old when she became heir to the throne in 1936. Eleven years later (age 21) the young Princess made this remarkable promise to her people:

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

“Rarely,” said Justin Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury) in his sermon during the Queen’s funeral, “has such a promise been so well kept.”

The Young Queen’s Leadership

She became queen when her father (King George VI) died unexpectedly in 1952. Suddenly at age 26 she not only became monarch over England and the United Kingdom, but head of state of several countries (Canada and Australia included), as well as sovereign over the Commonwealth of Nations and other realms and territories.

Considering that the world stage Queen Elizabeth entered was a largely male-dominated one, a world still recovering from the ravages of World War II, and a world trying to make up its mind about monarchial rule, she faced formidable challenges.

How, then, would she reign? What would be the hallmark of her leadership? What would be her legacy? For what would she be remembered?

Leadership with Heart

Perhaps it was her contemplation of these kinds of questions that prompted this statement made during her 1957 Christmas speech:

“I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice. But I can do something else: I can give you my heart.”

That’s exactly what she did for 70 years! She simply gave of herself though her abiding commitment to the service of her people, and in so doing, endeared herself to the whole world.

Unwavering Strength and Moral Authority

Paying tribute to the late Queen, French President Macron said, “The United Kingdom will forever bear the seal of she who embodied it for seventy years with unwavering strength and moral authority.”

In a constitutional monarchy (in which the king or queen shares power with a constitutionally established government), the extent of their rule is mostly reflected in their moral authority.

What is moral authority? Pastor Andy Stanley offers this definition in his book titled, Visioneering: Your Guide to Discovering and Maintaining Personal Vision:

“Moral authority is rooted in a desire to please God rather than man. Moral authority is the overflow of character, not leadership ability.”

Character-based Leadership

Queen Elizabeth II’s long reign (the longest of any monarch in British history), the reaction of the world to her passing, and the convergence of hundreds of world leaders at her funeral on September 19, highlight the unmatched esteem with which she was held by everyone.

Those who were closest to the Queen testify to her dignity, humility, and sense of duty. They speak of her genuine interest in people, her way of putting people at ease in her presence, and how she never took herself too seriously though keenly aware of her influence.

Such qualities emanate, not from a person’s leadership ability, but from their character – who and what they are deep down on the inside. Everyone has character; it’s just a question of what kind, whether good or bad.

Everyone has character; it’s just a question of what kind, whether good or bad. – Whaid Rose Click To Tweet

In view of the current trend away from character-based leadership in favor of leadership that gets things done, such admonition is timely.

Character Marked by Humility and Service

For a helpful definition of character, we turn once again to Pastor Andy Stanley, this time from his book titled, Louder than Words. He writes,

Your character is the internal script that will determine your response to failure, success, mistreatment and pain. It reaches into every single facet of your life. It is more far reaching than your talent, your education, your background, or your network of friends. Those things can open doors for you, but your character will determine what happens once you pass through those doors.

Elizabeth II’s family heritage and the circumstances of that moment in history opened the door for her to become queen, but it was her character marked by humility and service that so beautifully colored her life and sustained her reign for seven decades.

A Leader of Loving Service

We’re therefore wise to heed something else the archbishop said during the Queen’s funeral service:

“People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.”

Queen Elizabeth II will long be remembered for many things, including what analysts are calling “soft power,” defined as the Queen’s ability to understand and navigate the complexities of her kingdom—in ways most politicians never seem to grasp.

The Service of My Love

It all goes back to the promise she made as a young girl, a promise beautifully captured in the British patriotic anthem I used to sing as a child growing up in Jamaica, which was still a British Colony at the time of my birth. Consider the first verse:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,

Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;

The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test, that lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;

the love that never falters, the love that pays the price, the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

Her Majesty’s influence was fueled by duty, service, and sacrifice; her crown and scepter were mere symbols of power. Like the Psalmist, she trusted, not in her horses and chariots, but in the name of the Lord her God (see Psalm 20:7).

Like the Psalmist, she trusted, not in her horses and chariots, but in the name of the Lord her God. – Whaid Rose Click To Tweet

In so doing she became the embodiment of the good, the true, and the beautiful, reigning with a unifying power that was soft, but very real.

Leaders everywhere, take heed.


Whaid Rose
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Whaid Rose, former president of the General Conference, is dean of the Artios Center for Vibrant Leadership and pastors the Newton, NC CoG7. He and his wife, Marjolene, live in Denver, NC.