October 27, 2021

Great leaders come in all forms

It was painful to watch the World Series open last night absent this season’s two best teams, the CA teams from Los Angeles and my home in San Francisco. We’ll have to discuss the check swing that ended the Giant’s season with our guests down south after this meeting. But I have a confession. After living in SF for nearly 30 years, I’ve never become a Giants or 49ers fan. I remain loyal, hopelessly so, to my hometown teams the Twins and Vikings. While this remains the year the Vikings will win their first ever Super Bowl, 30 years ago today in 1991, the Minnesota Twins won game 7 over the Atlanta Braves in what ESPN deemed the Greatest World Series of all time, between 2 last place teams from the prior season. Jack Morris, refusing to be taken out, pitched a legendary 10 inning complete game shutout, a performance that propelled him to the Hall of Fame. It would be the last major sports championship for Minnesota, the longest drought in the nation. I remember this game as if it were yesterday, except, I wasn’t even aware of who was in the World Series for many months after it occurred.

At the time, I was living in a small village in central Tanzania. 6 hours away from the nearest paved road, I lived absent electricity and running water, much less access to the internet, a landline phone or even a newspaper. I experienced a year of being completely cut off from the rest of civilization and unaware of any critical events that occurred in the world, including the Twin’s championship.

When we have everything at our disposal and expect anything the world has to offer to be summonsed to our doorstep within hours with a few taps on our phone, we often take for granted all of the amazing infrastructure that was created to make such a way of life possible – from transportation to power to communications.  I’ve had great appreciation for world class infrastructure ever since and believe the pandemic and supply chain crisis has heightened everyone’s appreciation.

I’ve spoken at recent board meetings about the impact of transformational leadership. Today is the birthday of a great American leader, the larger-than-life President, Teddy Roosevelt.  On this day in 1996, another larger-than-life leader, the German chancellor who reunified East and West Germany, Helmut Kohl, was voted out of office following decades as a leading character in European and global politics.  His long-time protégé and youngest cabinet minister, whom he referred to as “his little girl,” would play a key role in his ouster and fall from political grace as a result of financial scandal. Angela Merkel would later become the first female and one of the longest serving leaders of Germany. By the end of her 16-year tenure, she would rise from a childhood under communism to achieving the status of leader of the free world.

A trained scientist with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, she personifies the polar opposite profile of many global leaders of this or past eras – a humble, reserved, soft-spoken female, with steely resolve in the face of crisis. She is all substance with little style and once told Tony Blair that she has no charisma. Instead, she exudes competence and moral authority – her tenure as chancellor and as a world leader will be appreciated for being remarkably bold and effective and will hopefully serve as a model for many others to come.

Not only did she save the EU by making tough, unpopular choices as a result of the Great Recession of 2008, she also championed the green revolution, to phase out nuclear and coal production, and earned acclaim for navigating the COVID pandemic. In 2015, she led a continent to respond to a catastrophic refugee crisis in a manner that will go down in history. The world will never forget how Germans were led by one leader to commit the most heinous atrocities imaginable to humankind. 70 years later, they were led by another to set a new standard for humanitarianism. Merkel confronted a tidal wave of hysteria – the stoking of fear, racism, religious bigotry and other baser sentiments often voiced by even other world leaders. And as a result, Germans welcomed desperate Syrians fleeing from war with open arms. She told her people “We can do this,” and so they did – successfully integrating over a million refugees in a single year.

We’re sad to see her leave the world stage but hope Angela Merkel, by rising to the challenge time and again to bring people together to do the right thing and by boldly attacking big problems to achieve a better future, has emblazoned an unexpected profile and template for what we envision in our leaders.

Scott Wu

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