Prentice Hall Press
ISBN: 0-7352-0189-7
It’s hard to find a niche for Elizabeth I CEO. Neither another quality management manual nor biography, Alan Axelrod’s work is an attempt to relate the skill of managing a sixteenth-century nation to a modern corporate world. It’s a potpourri of rules on how to influence people interspersed with perennial wisdom to be applied in day-to-day life; a bit of history seasoned with leadership lessons and put in a pocket-size format.
         At twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth took over the failing business that was England in 1558. A charismatic beauty, she presented herself in a way that put all doubts aside. During time spent in prison and under house arrest, she developed characteristics inherent to political and spiritual survival. She made an image of a Virgin Queen substitute for the diminishing image of Christ’s mother; indeed, she made this image stand for the earthly embodiment of the Virgin wedded to England itself. Having chosen to stay out of marriage, she made the most of her status. Hers was an image that fulfilled the spiritual needs of her subjects.
         Perhaps due to scarce information about the “hero” of the book, those rules and lessons that revive the Queen’s personality demand the most attention. At the age of thirteen, Queen Elizabeth already knew how to discern between outward values and inner truth. At sixteen, she learned not to be panicked in a life-threatening situation, to keep her presence of mind even under extreme circumstances. She never forgot that she was in a people business. She appealed to the imagination with theatrical effects and made a strong impression even in difficult situations, for she knew that people wanted to see strength and self-confidence. She stayed in good shape and was willing to demonstrate her health and vigor. Her boldness in decision making was well balanced by an ability to read human character.
         Based on lessons taught by Elizabeth, Mr. Axelrod urges leaders to put the issues of “universal humanity” ahead of the letter of the law, to be sympathetic to the feelings of others, to make personal contact with people whenever possible, and to complete identification of your well-being with the people’s well-being. In this sense, leadership is selflessness. “Few acts of care, concern, and kindness are so small as to escape notice.” The leader should be ready to explain or even justify his actions, as well as to express and explain his understanding, creating trust and sense of unity of goals. In short, the leader should be a good motivator, as Elizabeth was when she sent her troops to help the Protestants of the Netherlands in their struggle against Spain. Present a purpose, explain the reason, treat subordinates as intelligent workers, and you will get more creativity from them than you would expect.
         Queen Bess practiced a tactic for avoiding hasty responses to buy more time to think through the matter. Also, she didn’t thrust sudden changes on her subjects, but allowed enough time for them to gain confidence and comfort. She avoided quick fixes and impulsive decisions; this principle is well illustrated by her decision on Mary’s (Queen of Scots) indictment in the murder of her husband. Elizabeth didn’t worship absolutes and believed that applying a principle in changing circumstances required proper timing. Acting for the long-term, she didn’t marry Philip II to ensure an alliance with Spain and temporal peace. Instead, she kept a long-term goal in mind: the foundation of a Protestant state..
         In every situation she staved off vengeance and dealt with problems, not people. Queen Elizabeth discerned between constructive criticism and faultfinding. She learned early to make a request and not a demand, proposing positive actions and aiming for positive solutions. Through her forty-five-year rein, Elizabeth treated crises as new opportunities and transformed those conflicts which she could not avoid into cooperation..
         Many credit Elizabeth’s great achievements to her adherence to freedom of conscience. She made no attempt to control individual thinking, although she considered allowing each person to make his own judgement dangerous. Nevertheless, she valued unconventional decision-making..
         A large part of defeat consists in accepting defeat. Elizabeth did not admit herself a prisoner when entering the Tower of London. What little power is left to you, use it! Living from day to day, going with the flow in order to survive, she stayed alive, for “there is no such thing as a dead leader.” A gifted leader, as Elizabeth was, can control her ego and turn seeming defeat to victory.
         Mr. Axelrod states “today’s effective leader must learn to make a bargain with the Machiavellian devils, yet without selling out the core of morality.” Nevertheless, some rules deviate from the managerial-manipulative schematic and may be well used in a spiritual textbook. Do not identify yourself with what you do or with the leader’s title: “Without my position I am still me, Elizabeth … ” Presenting Elizabeth’s biography in case-studies form, Mr. Axelrod uses facts of her life as demonstration tools. However, some statements seem poorly grounded, assigning to her attributes that perhaps were not always there; actual facts are retold in an overly concise and sketchy manner. Mr. Axelrod uses Elizabeth’s words, “In being, not in seeming, we may wish the best,” from her speech before Parliament in 1572 as a proof of her pragmatism, although a less success-bent reader may see it as her belief in that we must be who we are rather than who we wish to be. Mr. Axelrod doesn’t linger on each assertion, thereby making them less convincing. On the other hand, he employs the same illustrations for different rules. Perhaps one can use merely any story for the illustration of someone’s belief?
         As Mr. Axelrod underlined in one of the conclusive chapters, Elizabeth always remembered that virtue is a matter of choice. Her morality was based not on a stuffy religion, but on the notion that good ends do not justify evil means and on her full acceptance of responsibility. This is an invaluable rule for identifying core principles to act upon in everyday life, not only in the realm of management.