Early on Thatcher was introduced to conservative politics by her father who was a member of the town's council. She attended Oxford University from 1943 to 1947 and earned a degree in Chemistry. She stood as a Conservative candidate in the 1950 and 1951 elections. Thatcher practiced tax law and qualified as a barrister in 1953. But she did not stay away from the political arena for too long. Thatcher won a seat in the House of Commons in 1959, representing Finchley.
Her first ministerial appointment came in 1961, when she became a front-bench spokeswoman for her party, and member of the Shadow Cabinet. When the Conservatives returned to office in June 1970, she was appointed secretary of state for education and science, becoming famous as "Thatcher, milk snatcher", after her abolition of the universal free school milk scheme. In 1975 she was elected leader of the Conservative Party and became the first woman to serve in the House of Commons. In May 1979 she became Britain's first female prime minister.
The three consecutive elections were won by Thatcher; two were landslide majorities which saw her in office for a total of 11 and half years. It was not until November 28th 1990 that Thatcher stepped down. In 1992, she was appointed to the House of Lords, as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. Thatcher was a cautious Prime Minister who has been described as daring to do what her previous successors never had the courage to do (Martino, 1999) she bought about change in Britain which is a quality of a transformational and charismatic leadership.
Thatcher demonstrated both referent power; influence with desirable traits, and expert power; influence from knowledge, skills and abilities (Dubrin et. al, 2006). She recognised and emphasised traits that were desirable to the people. Thatcher was charismatic as she had a vision of improving the economy and goals to bring about major changes to the United Kingdom. She used language that was inclusive of society, "on my side, supporters, our people" and used this as a persuasive technique and make people feel they belong to a group.
'Thatcherism' was soon recognised, it encompassed the notion of "romanticising risk" (Dubrin et al, 2006) under charismatic leadership. It was described as a powerful collection of values of human capacity in a political society (Martino, 1999). These ideas were not new, only outlined and put into operation by the "Iron Lady", which added to people's perception of her charisma and courage. Thatcher easily communicated with her audience as Churchill-MacMillian (1979) once observed about Thatcher, "She is an actress. She is very conscious of the impression she's making".
By appealing and engaging with audiences Thatcher was able to gain support and ultimately undertake objectives. Thatcher is also a transformational leader, she restored Britain economy and recognised that what the nation needed in order to thrive. She identified the need for dramatic changes and communicated them to the people, whom she got her support. She had a vision and that is basically what encompasses charisma as well as transformational leadership qualities as seen with Thatcher. Thatcher had many traits and motives that appealed to the public.
Although she was dubbed early on as the "Iron Lady" and was described as a tough minded leader who would "make men's toes curl" (Baird, 2008) she did appeal to the public by juxtaposing her stereotypical image of the "Iron Lady" with that of a regular housewife which emanated her warmth, which helped develop relations with the public as outlined by Page (1991), "warmth comes with territory". During her time as Prime Minister, Thatcher exuded self-confidence and enthusiasm as seen by her authoritarian style of leadership and how she changed Britain.
The authoritarian style of leadership exercised by Thatcher indicated she made decisions with little involvement of others and preferred to do things herself. She was known to delegate tasks only if she was certain of the consequences and the outcome would benefit and be to her liking (Wright, 1995). This right winged style of leadership proved to be effective for Thatcher due to the state the Conservative Party and the devastated economy when she entered office. Her ability to walk the talk only increased her effectiveness and trustworthiness.
Trust is a person's confidence in another's intentions, motives and sincerity of word (Lewicki et. al 2006). Thatcher was consistent between her actions and words and delivered outcomes that were favourable that increased Britain's trust in her. Thatcher has been well known for her "sharp tongue, impatience, abrasive and intelligent nature" (William, 2008), and this proved to be effective with the British people. People appreciated her honest and outspoken nature and she was perceived to be trustworthy and assertive, both recognised traits of effective leaders (William, 2008).
Task related traits were demonstrated was passion for her work, as she was always in the spotlight voicing her goals, something that very few politicians did (Boyson, 1999). Thatcher was a patriotic leader; she was "instinctive… she was a powerful leader who stood up for Britain" (Boyson, 1999) and once quoted by Thatcher herself, "I want certain things for Britain". Thatcher was also keyed in with her locus of control, she believed in her innate ability to take control, took responsibility for her actions and was able to change unfavourable conditions (Dubrin et.
al, 2006). Thatcher demonstrated that she was internal as she made significant changes in Britain, one of the most prominent was the privatisation of state owned utilities (William, 2008), which was the beginning of rebuilding Britain's damaged economy which lead to a popular capitalism and a shareholding democracy (Martino, 1999). Thatcher's traits, motives and characteristics made her the effective leader she was, she may have been right winged but at the time it appeared to be what the country needed in order to rebuild and establish itself again economically.
Margaret Thatcher was regarded one of the greatest political leaders of all time due to her ability to influence decisions; this is known as power. The main power used by Thatcher was legitimate power because she had the lawful right to make decisions and expect compliance (Zand, 1997). She was adamant about where the nation was headed and persuaded her colleagues in order to set by example and lead to reach her objectives. During her time in office Thatcher didn't just chair government discussions, but rather actively participated which assisted in persuading the people to agree with the direction she thought would be best.
The "Iron Lady" was very power driven and due to fear, ministers would often not consult with her on a regular basis in case they were found to be incompetent and possibly dismissed if she thought them to be weak as she was known to do. Tom Peter (1994) identified power can often be abused, but it can also benefit many people, this is true in Thatcher's case as she maintained the support of her followers for three consecutive elections due to the fact that she was a transformational leader.
When she was elected head of the Conservative party Thatcher was definitely in the right place at the right time, she capitalised on the opportunity and acted accordingly in proposing things that appealed to the people. Thatcher was surrounded by a political environment and found means to gain power in her position by making contacts with others who held a powerful status, the perfect example being her relations with the current US President, Ronald Reagan. She was also recognised internationally and gained praise from other leaders one being Gorbachev, the Soviet leader of the time.
Thatcher also gained political power as she controlled all vital information and was kept well informed on all events. Furthermore, her image was a political tactic aimed at establishing relations with her people. Through managing her impression and behaviour she drew on her femininity to make her more popular and to counteract her image of the "Iron Lady". As she stated in a speech in 1976 about her appearance "my green chiffon evening gown, my face softly made up, my hair softly waved" (Thatcher, 1976). She was also rarely presented without wearing pearls.
Thatcher knew that impression was a vital aspect of gaining power and she played this part very well. Thatcher has been described as seeking to be in command by appearing to be in command (Wright, 1995). She controlled her gestures, regulated her smile and adjusts the pitch of her voice according to the topic of discussion. (Wright, 1995). Power and politics play an integral role in Thatcher's leadership as Prime Minister from how she gained power through communication, knowledge, conducted, influential contacts she made and the impression she sought to make on her followers.