Three Leadership Lessons from TIME’s Person of the Year

This week TIME Magazine unveiled its annual choice for Person of the Year. Now in its 89th installation, it marks their recognition of the person (or persons) who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important in the preceding 11 months. The choice this year was Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel whose likeness now graces millions of red-trimmed covers worldwide.

Shockingly, as only the fourth individual female to receive this honor, TIME points to Chancellor Merkel’s leadership in four areas to support their choice:

  • Expertly managing serial debt crises
  • Leading conversations between the West and Russia
  • Setting a humanitarian example for welcoming those fleeing violence and persecution
  • Committing to fight radicalism

Set in this context, it’s clear that 2015 has been the Chancellor’s defining moment.

So what leadership lessons can mission-driven organizations learn from Chancellor Merkel? Here are three thoughts that came to mind:

  1. Effective leaders evolve. For many years, Chancellor Merkel governed with small steps, and was described by others as cautious and oftentimes indecisive. She inspired new words “merkelsch” and “merkeln,” roughly translated to mean “being indecisive” or “failing to have an opinion.” But over time, her leadership style has evolved. In a November 2015 cover story, aptly titled “The Indispensable European,” The Economist states, “In her ten years in office, Mrs. Merkel has grown taller with every upheaval.” Leaders must always grow.
  2. Effective leaders stand their ground. This summer, as the refugee crisis reached itstipping point, Chancellor Merkel became the trendsetter. Despite calls for her resignation, she has set – and preserved – an unprecedented bar: a total of 1 million asylum seekers are expected to reach safe haven in Germany by the end of the month. The easy solution would’ve been to reduce that number when critics raised their voices, but the Chancellor remained committed to those seeking a better life. Leaders have to make the hard decisions.
  3. Effective leaders are brave, even in the face of terrifying situations. In September, a middle-aged woman rose from an audience and asked the Chancellor what she intended to do to prevent “Islamization” in Germany. The Chancellor thoughtfully responded: “Fear has never been a good adviser, neither in our personal lives nor in our society. Cultures and societies that are shaped by fear will without doubt not get a grip on the future.” Leaders are courageous.

As we prepare to usher out this year and look ahead to making the most of our personal leadership in 2016, let’s all look to Chancellor Merkel’s example – to evolve, to stand our ground, to be brave.

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