What you need to know:
- Merkel’s choice to let her feminine side dominate was a breath of fresh air.
- Empathy, compassion and humility are the traits that made Merkel stand out.
One of my favourite pictures of outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel captures her staring at former US President Donald Trump, hands on the table in front of her. Trump is seated with arms crossed listening to what seems like a stern conversation with Merkel.
Other world leaders such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, British Prime Minister Theresa May (who is only recognisable by her hair) and French President Emmanuel Macron are standing next to Chancellor Merkel listening in, making her the centre of the photograph, a significant display of power. The photo was taken on June 9, 2018 during the G7 Summit in Canada.
Another is during the 2015 G7 summit in Krün, Germany, where Merkel is pictured in a red jacket, her arms outstretched, standing before President Barack Obama, who is seated on a bench.
These are among the many things we shall miss about Merkel when her term ends in December, signalling a new era in German and European politics. A lot has been said about Chancellor Merkel, the first female German Chancellor; from her policies on immigration, foreign policy and even her improbable journey to becoming one of the most powerful world leaders.
What is often left out is Merkel’s impeccable leveraging of her femininity, which made her stand out as a compassionate, empathetic world leader with ‘a big heart’, as her buddy, former President George W. Bush described her in a recent interview with DW.
Many theories on leadership tend to be masculinised, which is understandable as a majority of leaders are men, but Merkel’s unapologetic embracing of femininity has tested the limits as to how masculinised leadership theories can be applied to female world leaders. However, that’s not the aim of this piece.
In a world where women in leadership are encouraged to shed off their femininity in favour of masculinity to fit societal expectations, Merkel’s choice to let her feminine side dominate was a breath of fresh air. While feminine traits such as empathy, compassion and humility may not be particularly alluring to an aspiring world leader, it was exactly these traits that made Merkel stand out.
Her uniqueness was not pegged on the fact that she was often the only woman or one of the few women in a sea of male global leadership, it was her leadership philosophy that made her so appealing and relatable.
Perhaps that is the greatest leadership lesson that we could learn from Merkel, whose sober handling of pressure in extremely difficult situations could be used as an example in crisis leadership.
It was these traits that kept her grounded even when she had to stand in as the leader of the free world during the Trump era.
What’s more, there is a lot that male leaders could learn a lot from Merkel and her unashamed display of feminine leadership.
It is time for us to see more compassionate, selfless and humble leadership.
The writer is the Director, Innovation Centre, at Aga Khan University; [email protected]