Working Wounded: Management Lessons From 'The Queen'

From "Office Space" to "Glengarry Glen Ross," I am a sucker for any movie about work. And because of my occupation as a business writer, it's always tax write-off.

However, last year's top work movie came from a most unexpected direction. It was "The Queen," director Stephen Frears' fictional take on the public relations dilemma faced by England's royal family in the days after Princess Diana's death. Given her incredible performance as Queen Elizabeth, it wasn't surprising that Helen Mirren won a Golden Globe for the role last week and was nominated for an Oscar yesterday.

A great movie, obviously, but a work movie? Yes. This is one movie that I think every boss needs to see (although I promise I won't give away any secrets that would ruin your viewing of the movie).

If you remember, it took days for Queen Elizabeth to make a statement about Diana's death. She didn't travel to Buckingham Palace for days, despite an avalanche of bad newspaper headlines. According to this movie, the royal family felt they would be setting a bad precedent to first acknowledge, then to make a big deal out of the death of a former member of the royal family.

Tony Blair, the new prime minister, realized how important it was for the royal family to acknowledge the death right from the start. From his first reference to the "People's Princess" to his behind-the-scenes lobbying of the queen, he understood the important role that Diana occupied in the minds of average British citizens.

What does this have to do with managing? Many of us are like the queen. We think we understand what is in the minds of our people. But we are often woefully out of touch with what they really think or feel about work.

Don't believe me? Think about the last time you were in a meeting when someone offered a criticism they'd heard from the rank and file. What happened? Chances are that someone said it just came from a chronic complainer … or that the critic didn't really understand the reason for the new initiative … or some other excuse was raised to discredit the criticism.

Watch this movie, but don't think about the queen. Think about all your queenlike tendencies and all the beliefs that you hold much too tightly where you work.

Sure, you might have earned that corner office and great parking spot for all your years of dedicated service. But you also need to realize that all those perks also distance you from the thoughts and feelings of the average worker. To paraphrase an old advertising line, privilege has its rewards -- but it also has its limitations. Big limitations.

But the biggest lesson of the movie comes from the Tony Blair character. He was totally in touch with public opinion and the needs of the British people in mourning the loss of their princess. The fact that he has rock bottom job approval ratings because of British participation in the war in Iraq is an irony that should be lost on no one. Just because he was in touch with the people on one issue (Diana), it couldn't be assumed he would always stay in touch with their interests (Iraq).

Learn this lesson and you'll make the most of your time on the throne.

Quote of the Week

"No one wants advice -- only corroboration." -- John Steinbeck

Book Excerpt of the Week

From: "Talent: Develop it, sell it, be it" by Tom Peters (DK, 2006)

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