A middle-class teenager who’s raised to running one of the biggest law firms in the world before joining the French government and heading the IMF through hard work, dedication, rigour and talent, Christine Lagarde has long been one of my role models.
Reading through French journalists Cyrille Lachèvre and Marie Tisot’s biography Enquête sur la femme la plus puissante du monde in one sitting on Christmas day, it was impossible not to notice strong trends as to how she’s lead her career and life.
She sticks to form Lagarde was the Eurozone’s favourite Finance minister, not to mention the French government’s, when she ran for head of the IMF, yet she humbly sent the organisation a CV and cover letter.
She’s true to her style. When Lagarde started as French Finance minister, there was an uproar over the ostentatious jewellery she liked wearing. She gave in a few times, appearing on TV without them, but eventually decided against it since it made her feel naked. She’s always refused to dye her white hair. Lagarde’s tendency to include English words in French conversations annoyed politicians until Nicolas Sarkozy noticed having a Finance minister speaking fluent English was a decisive advantage.
She’s a meeting master. During one of the many all-nighters she had to pull to save Dexia, Lagarde kicked out of the room every person who didn’t hold decision power. When France ran the Ecofin, Lagarde sent the other European Finance ministers rules on how to behave during meetings, including “not reading the press while others speak”, “keeping speeches short” and “smiling”. Her time at Baker & McKenzie taught her to handle strong personalities and to always bring a back up to the negotiating table.
She’s generous. Lachèvre and Visot tell multiple anecdotes of collaborators who received gifts for no particular reason: she once bought her coworkers egg cups during a trip to the Netherlands because she liked them, purchased chocolate for everyone in Belgium and had a cake delivered to a journalist’s hotel room on his birthday. The meetings she runs always involve incredible food.
She has a very regimented lifestyle. Lagarde gets up before 6am everyday, usually to do some yoga, sometimes cycles to work. Photos of her discreetly exercising her abs during a meeting went viral in France. Lagarde doesn’t eat meat, hardly drinks any alcohol, doesn’t really go out late. Milk chocolate seems to be her only sin, sometimes eaten for lunch with litres of green tea.
She’s lead her career according to athletic principles. In her teens, Lagarde was part of the French synchronised swimming team, and you can find atheltic principles in her whole life, including eating carbs before a night of negotiations and believing in team work.
She doesn’t badmouth, nor does she spread gossip. Not about her collaborators, not about other politicians, not even about the Left when she was part of a right-wing government. This would go too much against her team-work ethic. Her loyalty lead her to introduce Red Bull in France, as per Prime Minister François Fillon’s wish and to never complain or comment when Sarkozy’s overcommunication tendency lead to additional financial difficulties for France.
She’s a relentless worker. Lagarde has a reputation for knowing her cases backwards, for turning up herself when others would send mere collaborators, for being able to ingest a large quantity of information really quickly and for making decisions even more quickly.