I recently watched “The Queen” a movie starring Helen Miren as Queen Elizabeth and Michael Sheen as Prime Minister Tony Blair during the eight days following the death of Princes Diana on August 31st in 1997.
What really fascinated me about this movie was the way the in which the Queen seemed to be at the effect of protocol “the way things are done around here” and the power her environment had on her thinking, decision making and timeliness in dealing with the reality of the circumstances surrounding and following Diana’s death.
You may recall that the monarchy was severely criticized for a perceived lack of sympathy regarding Princess Diana’s death and seeming insensitivity to the outpouring of love by a nation deep in mourning along with people from around the world heartbroken for the loss of “Peoples’ Princess.”
There were several causes for their upset, other than Prince Charles flying to Paris to pick up Diana’s body, the flag at Buckingham Palace wasn’t flown at half-mast, until the funeral and then only as a response to public outrage. There was an earie silence from the Queen as the papers beseeched her to “show us you care” lasting for six days till just before Diana’s funeral, and for staying holed up in her vacation home in Balmoral in an aloof and business as usual way.
In the film, subsequent articles and interviews the “rules” of “how things are done around here” began clashing with the moment by moment worsening public relations nightmare due to the overwhelming mourning pouring out from around the world. In the seven days between the People’s Princess’s death and her burial the reality of what was happening on the streets and in the news eventually dissolved the rigid rules that had guided the monarchy for centuries.
However, it was only when Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened that Queen Elizabeth came back to London and acknowledged the grieving that had been so extravagantly displayed by the British people and her fans from around the world by visiting the sea of flowers placed at Buckingham Palace and to make a public address.
There are some interesting parallels in business from this great little film and the stories from that week. Most notably in my opinion recoiling from the people into a private sheltering of her grandchildren and while that is understandable, on one level a simple statement at the time of Princess Diana’s death would have honored both her grandchildren, the British people and those fans from around the world. Declining to do that created a PR nightmare for the Monarchy.
Regardless of the way things have been done for centuries and the opinions of those around her, she remained disconnected albeit understandably, from the impact of her lack of response until it was almost entirely too late.
In business when we ‘ve got our heads buried in the plans we’ve made, or in the grind of what has to get done in the moment we sometimes lack the foresight and the vision to be who and what is needed in the moment. Especially in times of crisis. And while we’re all human beings there are certain responsibilities that go with leadership that include being able to see circumstances for what they are, like it or not, to respond quickly and effectively and for the consequential impact of our choices on ourselves, the business, our team members, and everyone associated with our business.
As business leaders we must respond quickly to the reality of the situation we’re in and look, listen and feel our way to a wise and appropriate response to crisis we find ourselves in. While it’s important to listen to others it’s also important to recognize opinions as opinions and rules as guidelines, may very well cost us an opportunity to be effective and to make a difference. The role Prime Minster Tony Blair played with just a couple months in office, in advising the Queen and addressing the public’s grief cannot be underestimated. This is the role a great mentor, advisor and coach has during times when there is so much at stake.
I watched the public address the Queen eventually made and in the end was satisfied with her statement, clear appropriate and respectful, everything you’d expect from a leader of her stature.
While we’ll never know the thoughts that were going through the Queen’s mind at the time, I’m clear it was a difficult at best situation to find oneself in and I do wish she’d been willing to be who was needed and wanted not just with her grandchildren, but also with her nation and those people from around the world who related to Diana as the People’s Princess.
How prepared are you for a crisis taking place in your business?