Princess Diana Transformational and Servant Leadership

Princess Diana’s Brief Biography

Diana Spencer was born on 1st of July 1961 in Sandringham to the Spencer family which had undeniable close ties to the royal family with both of Diana’s grandmothers serving as ladies in waiting Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother. Diana was educated in private schools and attended finishing school for one term in Switzerland before she returned to London. In the summer of 1980, Diana and Prince Charles were guests at a country weekend retreat and it was there that the young Diana caught the eye of the heir apparent to the British throne.

 After a brief period of courtship, the prince proposed to Diana and they were wed on July 1981 in St Paul’s Cathedral after which she became Diana, Princess of Wales. Apart from being a devoted mother to her two sons, Diana displayed an incredible commitment to charity and social work which earned her the title “The people’s princess” (Junor, 1982). Her devotion to humanitarian work continued after her divorce from Prince Charles and ended upon her untimely demise in a tragic car accident in 1997 at the age of 36.

Princess Diana’s Leadership

Princess Diana is perhaps the most admired monarch of all time. Her effortless display of transformational and servant leadership still motivates and empowers her avid followers (such as myself) decades after her death. Of all the admirable qualities possessed by Diana, I find her integrity and honesty most appealing. Diana’s honesty is perhaps most notable in the way she chooses to communicate with people, her iconic quotes speak of a heart governed by truth while testimonies from her followers show the high degree of trust she managed to acquire through honest communication.

As a wife to the prince, Diana was constantly under surveillance. Moreover, the British monarch is structured in a way that denies members of the royal family and freedom to lean into their own inclinations or display any preferences that are not in consistence with the direction given by the monarch. As such, Diana was under constant pressure to conform to the rules of the British monarch and meet expectations regarding the behavior of a princess. However, Diana defied all these expectations and remained true to her personality. For instance, Diana regarded her family as “…the most important thing.” (Morton, 1992).  She does not let the pressures of her royal duties get in the way of fulfilling her responsibilities as a mother, instead, she rigidly structures her schedule in a way that ensures that she gives maximum attention to her home. She regularly takes her sons to theme parks, makes time to drop them off at school and is actively involved in choosing the schools they would attend and the nannies that would take care of them.

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In an age where career pressures can easily tramp familial responsibilities, it is inspiring to observe someone set such distinct priorities and fulfill them effectively (Moore, 1991). Diana’s integrity is further exemplified by her dedication to the plight of HIV/AIDS victims despite constant objection from members of the royal family and even the British public. Despite being misunderstood by those closest to her and the massive criticism and antagonism she receives from stepping beyond the boundaries of a typical monarch, Diana’s determination to raise her children in as normal a way as possible and dedicated herself in service to individuals within the society that she felt had been cast out, remains unwavering.

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Leading from the heart

Diana’s immense capacity to show love was central to her leadership. She made it clear that she did not seek to “…go by the rule book” and that her leadership involved leading “from the heart, not the head” (Morton, 1992).  While it is crucial for leaders to examine situations rationally, it is evident from Diana’s success as a leader that more needs to go into leadership with more than mere strategy. The heart houses intellect, motivation, attitude, character, and value and is the center of an individual’s personality (Lenski, 1946). Diana’s accomplishments could not have come from a lack of tenacity and perseverance. Perhaps it was through her decision to fight for causes that were central to her personality, those that touched her heart that she acquired the motivation to keep going.

Although it is not unusual for public figures to do their part for the underprivileged in the society, Diana did not extend her royal patronage to charity organizations for the mere show of it or just to fulfill part of her royal duties, the princess made an effort to support organizations whose causes were of personal interest to her.  For instance, the princess was the royal patron of Barnardo’s an institution supporting homeless and abused children, Birthright, Child Accident Prevention Trust and Children’s hospitals around the world. This choice of institutions shows the overwhelming amount of love she has for children which is also reflected in the way she chooses to care for her sons. It is indeed admirable that what she loves is what she uses to change the lives of others.

Princess Diana’s Servant leadership

There must exist an endless capacity to serve others within the heart of every great leader (Greenleaf, 2002). Servant leadership is defined by the capacity of a leader to display genuine empathy, foresight, and commitment to building the community and the people within it (Sendjaya et al, 2008). While Diana may not have set out to be a leader, the empathy, awareness, and capacity to heal she displays towards every cause she decides to support distinguishes her as a leader and a relatable one at that. For instance, when it was still a popular belief that HIV/AIDS could be contracted through casual contact with AIDS victims, Diana was actively visiting dying AIDS patients in hospices. When a bedridden AIDS patient burst into tears as the princess was chatting with him, Diana spontaneously put her arms around him to console him. This unprompted demonstration of compassion and concern for the grief that is central to humanity may not have been done to attract the audience of others, but it does. Diana effectively inspires others to want to be like her and doing so makes her position as a leader inevitable.

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Diana’s foresight into the plight of people suffering from HIV and her efforts to show others that these people did not deserve the isolation they received, but rather love, kindness and compassion show that she had recognized her duty to serve people whom society had cast out of its embrace and her dedication to the needs of her followers as opposed to those of the monarch truly set her apart as a servant leader (Spears, 1996).

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            Diana’s inspirational words “Whoever is in distress can call on me, I will come running wherever they are” (Morton, 1992) are embodied in the tremendous amount of her time she dedicates to the care for individuals who were in the midst of trials and suffering. For instance, when the Adrian Ward, a prominent figure in art, ballet and opera discovered that he was suffering from AIDS, he did not have to spend the last moments of his life in solitude and agony. Instead, Diana was by his side, secretly caring for him for five months, sharing blissful moments of sorrow, happiness and laughter with the iconic figure before he finally succumbed to his illness and passed away (Morton, 1992).

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Although humanitarian work was part of her royal duties, Diana was actively involved in all the charities she supported and this commitment is demonstrated by the fact that she continues to remain committed to her work even after her divorce from Prince Charles. She was deeply devoted to helping disadvantaged members of the society and addressing issues within the society that were royals would not typically address. She challenged public perceptions of individuals suffering from leprosy and HIV, banned landmines in Africa and demonstrated sincere empathy for suffering and distress of any kind. In her own words “Wherever there is suffering that is where I want to be, doing what I can.” (Morton, 1992).  Her strength and determination to serve people went a long way to bridge the gap between the monarchy and its people. She allowed the constituents to see more in the work that she was doing, to read more into what she said and sense how she feels.

Displaying genuine honesty and vulnerability may have come at the price of inviting more scrutiny into her life and permitting others to witness her shortcomings such as her struggles with bulimia, constant bouts of depression and even suicidal tendencies, but it also endeared her to her followers, enabled them to look beyond the glamorous life that she lived as a princess, envision her struggles and persevere with her. This unwavering display of humility, honesty, and integrity makes her all the more approachable to her followers and increases the likelihood that the inspiration she provides them with will take root. Coming out in support for children and outcasts is one thing, having inspirational messages for people is another but showing others that there has indeed been a lot of pain in your life, demonstrating an understanding of pain gained from having experienced it yourself and showing others that it is possible to survive that pain, is leading by example, a defining hallmark of servant leadership (Covey, 2002). 

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Princess Diana’s Transformational leadership

Ford & Blanchard (1993), define transformational leadership as leadership that raises peoples’ consciousness towards what they want. This kind of leadership allows a leader to motivate followers, create awareness of what their priorities should be and get the followers to transcend beyond their own self-interests and discover other avenues of fulfillment beyond themselves (Bass et al, 1987). Through caring for the sick, the dying, the distressed and counseling the bereaved Diana unconsciously shows her followers that there is a way out of the fog of misery and pain, that there is fulfillment in looking “beyond yourself, to the needs of others” (Morton, 1992).

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A transformational leader stays close to his/her causes, gets the authority to act from the needs of his/her followers, takes initiatives and excels amid constant adversity. This definition by Anderson (1990), truly speaks of the spirit of leadership possessed by Diana. For instance, when Diana arrived in Nigeria and discovered that all the disabled people and beggars had been removed from the streets so as not to upset her she was incredibly upset as it was always her primary intention to get as close as possible to those who had been shunned by the society. Diana believed that there was no “better way to dismantle a personality than to isolate it.” (Morton, 1992). And having experienced this isolation herself, she set out to console those who were experiencing it in Jakarta and Maiduguri where she met and shook hands with patients suffering from leprosy (Morton, 1992).  

Princess Diana’s demise left her positive attributes forever immortalized in history. It is therefore almost impossible and futile to describe any shortcomings she might have had. However, upon careful examination of her life, it is apparent that a carefree spirit, consistent with youth, may have led to her untimely demise (Hindman, 2003). It is indeed saddening to envision how much value she would have had to the world could have been immense had she lived longer.

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Princess Diana’s legacy of transformational and servant leadership continues to empower people to this day. Her determination to excel amid constant scrutiny and opposition continues to affect the hearts of others through the many books that have been written about her. The amount adversity she had to overcome such as her struggle with bulimia and depression shows that leadership does not have to come from the perfect individuals and that people can still accomplish a lot despite being incredibly flawed.

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