Angela Merkel is often referred to as the most powerful woman in the world. As the Chancellor of Germany since 2005, she sits among the world’s top leaders. She regularly meets with folks like Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, and Vladimir Putin. She’s a key influencer in the European Union and brokered a massive bailout for 19 nations. Oh, and she runs a country too.
Merkel isn’t exactly the typical politician and is sometimes described as a triple anomaly: she’s a woman, a scientist, and was born and raised in East Germany. It’s these attributes, however, that make her the powerful politician she has come to be.
Merkel wasn’t raised in a political family, and no one is entirely sure why she decided to enter politics back in 1989. Merkel obtained a doctorate in quantum chemistry in 1986, and had a first career as a scientist. Her scientific background is often considered a key to her success.
Merkel’s scientific upbringing is weaved throughout the way she approaches politics. She makes decisions the same way a scientist would: through careful examination of all possible options.
Merkel believes that problems do not exist, instead referring to them as tasks that must be resolved using the scientific method. Every task is approached methodically, comparisons are drawn, risks are weighed, reactions are anticipated, and actions only occur after a short waiting period.
“She is about the best analyst of any given situation that I could imagine,” a senior official in Merkel’s government told the New Yorker. “She looks at various vectors, extrapolates, and says, ‘This is where I think it’s going.’”
Merkel’s penchant for examining all possible options means she is often reaching out to a carefully cultivated network of informal advisors. Sometimes this outreach takes place during back-door meetings or late night phone calls, but Merkel is also known to be a rapid texter. During sittings of the German Parliament, Merkel can frequently be seen texting her network of advisors, who feed her information and advice.
Merkel’s scientific background is apparent not only in the way she approaches decision making, but also in her analytical detachment. Her choices are made based on fact and reason, not on feelings or emotions.
“She’s not a women of strong emotions. Too much emotion disturbs your reason. She watches politics like a scientist.” – Bernd Ulrich, deputy editor of Die Zeit, New Yorker
Merkel is sometimes criticized for her slow decision making process and lack of quick action, but her strategy has taken her far. It’s been 10 years since she became Chancellor, and she’s still going strong.
Merkel reminds us that there’s a little inner scientist in all of us. Pay attention to yours the next time you have an important decision to make. Make sure you have all your options in front of you, and check with others to see if there is any missing. Weigh the benefits and the risks, and consider any ripple effects a decision might have. Sit on a decision for a few days before taking action to make sure it feels right. And then go all in.
Image Credit: CUNY School of Journalism