Christine Lagarde on Learning By Doing

The road to becoming the first-ever female managing director the International Monetary Fund (IMF) wasn’t easy, but in 2011, Christine Lagarde was appointed to lead the world’s economic growth monitor. Born in the 1940s, the IMF was created to build the world’s international payment system, which was a mess after the Second World War. Wherever there is a national debt crisis or emergency, the IMF deploys loans to bring back financial stability – think of it as the world’s financial firefighter.

At the top of it all is Christine Lagarde. The world’s fifth-most powerful woman entered the picture in the midst of a global economic crisis and a scandal with the previous director. Since then, she has helped calmed the fiscal flames of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Cyprus while bringing those countries into recovery from economic turmoil. She has also helped to save the Eurozone (18 countries which adopted the Euro as a sole currency) from its own problems regarding financial problems in its individual members. Christine is also starting to direct the IMF’s attention to climate change, income inequality, and gender participation in the workforce.

The former French Minister of Finance worked her way up to the top by moving away from her country. Even though she had finished high school in France, Lagarde chose to move do to an exchange at a private all-girls’ school in Maryland; in the U.S., she interned at a Republican’s political office. When they realized they needed someone fluent in French to respond to mail from French-American voters about the Watergate scandal, Lagarde found herself in the right place at the right time.

“Everyone was writing to the congressman, saying, ‘Impeach Nixon.’ ‘Don’t impeach Nixon.’ So I was introduced to the art of dealing with constituent members,” Lagarde, 55, recalls with a laugh. “During that year… with my host family and interning in Washington, I learned more, and it mattered more to me, probably, than any year of my life.” – Christine Lagard

From there, Lagarde began to climb the ladder as a lawyer and chairman of Baker & McKenzie, one of the largest law firms in the world. She kept in contact with her American host family, who initially told her “Don’t let the bastards get you.”

No matter the work environment, keep hanging on to the work you want to be doing and don’t give up. Lagarde stood up, made her own choices, and became known for her determination. Her biggest advice is to dare to take a chance. To move forward at all in your career involves taking a risk, even if it means moving to another country.

After that, it’s about building your skills that contribute back to your goal; if it’s about working with and understanding people, like Lagarde does, you eventually have to start working with people. Classrooms, courses and text books only fill in part of the vital equation – experience builds expertise and allows you to flourish.

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Image Credit: By World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons