Merkel’s Leadership: Crisis Shows the Woman

by Prof. Dr. Timo Meynhardt | May 19, 2020
What can we learn from the German Chancellor's leadership decisions during the refugee crisis in 2015? Professor Dr. Timo Meynhardt connects elements from the recent fictional documentary "The Driven Ones" with the Leipzig Leadership Model and today's economic crisis.

Looking at Merkel’s leadership style through the Leipzig Leadership Model

Almost a year ago, we were able to confer an HHL-honorary doctorate on the German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel for her leadership achievements in the spirit of the Leipzig Leadership Model. This achievement was widely recognized and further fueled the discussion of what good leadership is about – in classroom and in research circles alike.

The one, who contributes, leads – and Chancellor Merkel clearly does so. In the current Covid-19 crisis, it is far too early to re-construct the actual decision flow. We can only follow the news, and history will tell how she actually led herself, her team, and the country as a whole. What is already visible is her idealistic pragmatism of a step-by-step approach in such an extraordinary time of uncertainty.

“Die Getriebenen” showcases what leadership that puts ego second and contribution for the common good first could look like.

New fictional documentary “The Driven Ones” on Merkel’s leadership style

What a coincidence! In April 2020, the television film “Die Getriebenen” (The Driven Ones) was broadcast for the first time (available in the ARD Mediathek in German until July 15th, 2020). Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Robin Alexander, the film deals with the reconstruction of decision-making processes in summer 2015 on the question of how Germany should deal with the refugees who came to Europe from war zones (especially Syria) within a short time and in hitherto unknown numbers.

It will always be easier to make sense of things in retrospect. Actually, meaning in life emerges only by looking backwards. Therefore, it is most instructive, to study her leadership style in a situation what came to be called “refugee crisis”.

The film combines the facts, real news broadcasts and images, real statements by top politicians with fictional dialogues to create an overall picture that could not have been known to a wider public. The audience response and the first film reviews already make the film adaptation seem like a serious perspective on the events of the time.

Similarities to Leipzig Leadership Model

The fictional processing of the historic material reveals various references to the Leipzig Leadership Model seen combined in the four aspects of Merkel’s leadership rue, a metaphor appealing to her famous gesture (sometimes also known as Merkel diamond). Certain behavioral patterns become visible again and again, from scene to scene and make it clear how the Chancellor unfolds her POWER of leadership.

Let us apply the rue logic to a couple of film scenes…

Humanistic world view: “Will people ever understand, that it is a self-evident fact, that we must help people in need?” This statement, expresses the Chancellor’s attitude and shows her deeply humanistic compass. Especially in the demanding scene when she approaches a crying Lebanese girl and gently comforts her and expresses a warmth of heart that words cannot.

Pragmatic-systemic thinking and acting: The Chancellor tirelessly organizes small-scale coordination meetings with all parties involved and seeks an acceptable compromise. When asked if someone else might be bluffing, she only says, “I don’t know, I’m not a gambler”. or “I don’t want a solution at any price.”

Modest-authentic appearance: While almost all the other top politicians appearing in the film repeatedly bring their own interests into play, Merkel dispenses with hers completely and manages to reach a compromise through her unconditional objectivity. She restricts her own emotions to the sober statement: “If getting upset would help solve problems, I would get upset.”

Orientation towards a contribution to the greater whole: Time and time again the Chancellor takes a problem-solving approach and puts the situation into a more comprehensive context, whether it is the appeal for a common European solution or the reminder of Germany’s special historical responsibility.

Leadership that puts the common good first

The writer Martin Walser once spoke of the “silent power of Mrs Merkel”. This film provides concrete illustrative material for this. Looking back over the time-span of a few years, the leadership performance becomes all the more apparent. Of course, a film is a film is a film. To me, “Die Getriebenen” showcases what leadership that puts EGO second and contribution for the common good first could look like.

Watch the film and check out whether you share this perspective or not! If you find it attractive, you may want to use the rue logic to try and make sense of Chancellor Merkel’s behavior in the next months to come.