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Leader Crisis Communication:  The Queen, Movie Review Example

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Movie Review

Leader Crisis Communication:  The Queen

In many ways, the film The Queen reveals how complex leadership issues may be, and how new issues may arise from a crisis to further complicate existing ones.  The story of the film is based on the 1996 reality, when Princess Diana was killed in an accident and the response of the royal family was seen as lacking.  At the same time, Prime Minister Tony Blair was challenged by his own, unique position; the elected representative of the English, he nonetheless was obligated to observe thousands of years of tradition and defer to the Queen’s approach.  For months, then, the situation escalated into a multifaceted leadership crisis.  The entire world increasingly demanded a leadership reaction to the death that met the public need, as the royal family held to a pragmatic and reserved attitude.  In the midst of this, Blair walked a fine line between his sense of how leadership should react and his respect and obedience to the Queen.  The crisis was resolved only when the royal family bowed to public demand, and satisfied the public need for an expression of grief it did not feel it should present.

In a sense, the dilemma at the heart of The Queen goes to an issue at the heart of leadership.  Leaders are followed because they represent qualities desired by the people, but this formula is two-sided.  More exactly, the people wish to be led in the leader’s direction, but that direction must conform to their sense of where they should go in the first place.  The public tends to want leadership that is both free of specific values, and yet defined by them (Heifetz 14).   This was the essential crisis, as the royal family insisted on protocols and behaviors alien to the British public in this particular case.  In basic terms, the Queen was justified as the leader in emphasizing the family’s right to privacy, as well as counting on the public knowledge that Diana had been no part of the royal family for some time.   This was a leadership response, then, that should have worked; the world knew there was no love between Diana and most of the royals, as the British traditionally honor the dignity of their royals.  What the Queen ignored was Diana’s impact as a leader in her own right.  Since her separation from the family, she had taken on an iconic and beloved stature in the public eye, and those stakeholders demanded recognition of this by their royals.  As the Queen held to her values, then, the people were unwilling to accept them, and the inherent contradiction of this confused her.

Adaptive leadership eventually saved the day and, as expressed in the film, the Queen had Blair to thank for salvaging the circumstances.  Carefully treading between respect for her feelings and his obligation to influence the sovereign, Blair gradually brought the true nature of what was a crisis to the Queen’s attention.  Obviously, this was necessary only because public pressure was immense, forcing even Blair’s hand.  Nonetheless, he gently pushed for the adapting needed, and he succeeded where a more direct approach would have likely failed.  It seems Blair relied on one thing; the Queen, no matter her personal views, was a government official with long experience in altering her position when absolutely necessary.  Her own values were sacrificed, but Blair knew she would view this as another duty of a responsible monarch.

That Blair succeeded is evident in the recent Jubilee celebrations for the Queen.  Had there been no adapting to Diana’s death, it is unlikely the event would have been so embraced by the English, and this goes to the “new normal” as it applies to that most ancient of leaderships, royalty.  This is a leadership unlike any other, grounded in millennia of profound respect and affection, yet vastly altered in modern life to remove the mystique.  It is ironic, but the Queen today must reflect an association with the feelings of the masses, even as such a reflection runs against the traditions of royalty.  As the 20th century unfolded and the standard distance between the royals and the public fell, a new relationship between leader and society took its place.  The press humanized the royals, and this is a double-edged sword; on one hand, it creates public sympathy and identification, while on another level it destroys a time-honored, untouchable authority.  The death of Diana exploded this new reality, and ultimately ended the ancient leadership prerogatives of the royals to dictate values, to be embraced by the public.  In a shocking reversal, it was the public declaring itself as inflexible, and the only way the Queen could maintain her authority was to bow to the authority of the people.

References

Heifetz, Ronald Abadian.  (1994).  Leadership without Easy Answers.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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