Symbolic Leadership and the Queen’s Visit to Ireland

The Queen’s visit to Ireland has been widely described as a historic moment of great symbolic significance. So what is symbolic leadership?

This month (May 2011) has already marked two events redolent in symbolism. The first was the celebrity royal wedding of William and Kate Wales. The second event will have more of a foothold on history.

The State Visit

The Daily Telegraph put it in these terms:

Yesterday when the Queen arrived in the Irish capital for the start of her historic tour, she laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, which honours all those who died for Irish freedom in the early part of the 20th century … [Today] The Queen will make probably the most significant visit of her tour when she goes to Dublin’s Croke Park, the site of a British massacre of Irish civilians which turned public sympathy decisively against the Government.

The symbolic significance was not lost on those still claiming to be heir to the revolutionary struggle for a United Ireland. There were thwarted terrorist incidents in London and Dublin. Security in the Irish capital was so tight that the general public could hardly glimpse the visiting Royal.

Symbolic Leadership

Just what is Symbolic Leadership? The Danish Leadership theorist Ingo Winkler defined it as leadership which refers to, and is based on interpretation of meaning, which becomes tangible and therefore can be experienced in the form of symbols. The concept assumes that reality is a social construction, with leadership being a part of this reality.

Those Symbolic Acts

The State Visit has been thoroughly planned for its symbolic impact. So was that royal wedding. Those symbolic acts have a message to communicate to the widest of international audiences. The Queen’s visit has a further message for audiences in Northern Ireland, The Irish Republic, and the British mainland.

An Irish View

A Irish blogger captured one view from Dublin:

I watched the Royal Wedding last month; I enjoyed it immensely but I didn’t shed a single tear. I cried today as I watched The Queen stand in front of Áras an Uachtráin (Irish President’s official residence) and listen to a band play God Save the Queen followed by the Irish national anthem. A moment imbued with significance and symbolism; peace in our time in this often troubled island. [Note; the very blurry image above was shot from my television screen from RTE’s coverage of the Queen’s state visit to Ireland].


To Just Add Attitude for that ‘very blurry image’.


I was struck by the Churchillian prose of the Queen’s speech. It was a brilliant piece of writing for a momentous moment. Worth studying by any student of leadership, along with the Martin Luther King classic.

5 Responses to Symbolic Leadership and the Queen’s Visit to Ireland

  1. Tudor says:

    Note to leadership students: This LWD post is a reasonable template for a student assignment asking you to produce a blogpost demonstrating that you have studied and benefitted from the course.

    [1] It identified an important news story with leadership aspects to it
    [2] It tried to extract the salient features of the story [map reading]
    [3] It connected the story with aspects of leadership theory [map testing]

    It is still open to improvements. For example, if I had been trying to earn a good grade, I would have shown I had studied the chapter on symbolic leadership in Dilemmas of Leadership and found a way of mentioning what was relevant in no more that a sentence.

    Also, it would have been worth personalising the account in a way that added some value through personal experience for example indicating how the event had at least helped me review my beliefs on symbolic leadership. [map making]. This can sometimes appear forced, and should be attempted only if it adds value to the post.

  2. a do not doubt with the queen’s ability as a leader of the British,now, here we are talking about a very iconic political leader whose steps are very carefully examined and evaluated , the queen has a lot of consultants whom i think the ones to draw such maps and suggest the major events the queen should take into consideration in the coming future and i think this visit put the queen in a very hight rank alongside the symbolic leaders in this era where those are rare and if they are there they are part of the “bad side i.e. OBL”

    finally and am sorry to say that but if the consultants feel the queen in her last chances to make significant historical contribution to the country then this event is well and smartly planned

  3. Tudor says:

    You have a good point, Samer.

    I would say that the Queen takes advice like you say, although how this works is not clear. The speech was particularly well-crafted. The symbolic acts she makes here are attempts to heal great differences between England and Ireland brought about by centuries of violent history.

    It seems as if interest in Ireland was far more than in the UK, where the headlines were about the head of the IMF arrested in New York,and politican Ken Clark’s comments (two cases concerning rape).

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