She was vivacious and regal up until her final passing. But the queen exuded something even more profound—a surety in the way she led.
The entire world watched (an estimated 4.4 billion, making it the most viewed event in history) and wept over the recent loss of the long-lived monarch of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022). They remembered her grace, the way she effectively carried both herself and her duties, and her dedicated service to her nation. While there was enormous majesty and glory in the coverage of the funeral and far too much gossip about this or that prince, consort, or sibling, the real attention was best focused on what has long been most evident—the queen was a true servant leader.
I found the beautiful music, which was chosen by the queen herself, overwhelming. It allowed the throngs to offer their praise and condolence both, while uplifting our spirits. It was always that way with ER II—humble, real, worshipful. She was not only defender of the faith and head of the Church of England, she was also a believer.
From the national anthem “God Save the King” to the Scottish piper from the Royal Regiment of Scotland playing the traditional bagpipe lament, “Sleep Dearie, Sleep,” and “The Lord is My Shepherd,” (also notably performed at her marriage to Prince Philip), to her favorite hymn, “Love Divine” and “O Taste and See,” which was composed for her coronation in 1953, every note was wonderful. With the colors, pageantry, huge crowds, and liturgy, the music made this an unforgettable parting.
Over two decades ago respected American business author Jim Collins wrote about the organizational underpinnings of economic life that shouted out against the ethic of impermanence. The queen fits perfectly into this mold as she represented the permanent things. She embodied truth, beauty, and the good.
Collins’ book, titled Built to Last, described a model and then a number of companies that fit the model that were indeed going to last because of the way they were organized and the values they baked-in from the start. The queen knew about such truths, and her durable reign was the longest in British history.
Built to Last certainly hit a chord with readers and business leaders. It has enjoyed more than 70 printings, translations into 17 languages, and 55 months on the BusinessWeek bestseller list. What it suggested was something unexpected, yet also what the Queen would call “commonsensical.”
According to Collins, the book did so well because “people were beginning to ask themselves, ‘is nothing sacred? Is nothing timeless? Is nothing sustainable?'” And because it gave people a perspective “that they desperately craved.” It said, “Yes, there are some timeless fundamentals. They apply today, and we need them now more than ever.” And it “affirmed that the essence of any greatness does not lie in cost-cutting, bullying, restructuring, or the pure profit motive.” Instead, “it lies in people’s dedication to building entities around a sense of purpose—around core values that infuse work with the kind of meaning that goes beyond just making money.”
Interestingly, the subtitle of the book was: Successful habits of visionary companies. The companies found success because they habituated meaning and infused it into their ideologies. The queen practiced this well before any book on the subject. It pulsed through her veins. It was who she was.
Now in its 10th printing, the book lasts because it is not about one-off, sometimes-charismatic leaders, or about clever product concepts, or some visionary insights into the market(s), far or near away. It is not about having the all-too-familiar vision statement, or most decidedly, about putting it on laminated cards and sticking it to your refrigerator door, only to be forgotten or ignored.
The theme of anything lasting is far more important, enduring, and deeper. It is about the visionary institutions, be they public or private, themselves. It is their essence and their very DNA that makes them who they are and allows them to have permanence—when and where so many others fail and are unsustainable.
Based on extensive empirical research at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, the study looked at 18 truly exceptional companies and directly compared them to their top competitors. The work asked a simple question: What makes a truly exceptional organization different from other companies?
The framework that emerged was both coherent and practical. It could be applied as a master blueprint for building any organization that wanted to prosper and endure for a long time.
And what was the key, overarching finding, among many gems?
Lasting entities must have a devotion to a core ideology and school their employees into a commitment to the company. Only such engaged employees can find their own purpose in the larger purpose of the companies they choose and who choose them. This calling is two-sided. This concept of service to and by companies is at the core of what I have termed service leadership. It starts with a calling, which makes sense of larger reality and is shaped by a larger purpose. This gives meaning on numerous levels to people in their working lives, on the job and in their directed vocations.
Service leadership, as elaborated and proven, takes many forms and is not uniformly the same. It is a process and not an exclusively personal attribute. We can and want to learn how to become service leaders. We have a natural bent in that direction as human beings, no matter where we live, where we work, or what we do. The queen excelled at it.
Organizations and employees who together habituate to this practice are more likely to last, as research found. They are more likely to be happy and satisfied. They are more productive and engaged, and in the end, they are more fulfilling. All our organizations would be well served to take heed and, in this 21st century, strive to become oriented to service leadership, just like Queen Elizabeth II exhibited. It is a conservative values-based system that has been tested and proven through the ages. For the queen, it was anchored in abiding faith.
For a full social theory, showing all the markers of servant leadership and some case studies from around the world, take a look at, or listen to our recent book.
God Bless the queen. The best way to honor her would be to take up her form of leadership—as service.