German Chancellor Angela Merkel voluntarily stepped away from her position on December 8, 2021, one week shy of being the longest serving Chancellor in the history of Germany. It would not surprise anyone who knows her to surmise that she stepped away one week shy in order to avoid the distinction of being the longest-serving Chancellor. Might she have thought that she already stood out enough as the first Chancellor since WWII to voluntarily leave office, as Germany’s first female Chancellor, as the first Chancellor who grew up in Communist East Germany, as the first scientist to become Chancellor, and as the first to be named the “World’s Most Powerful Woman” by Forbes 14 times since 2006 (slipping to #4 only once in 2010)?
Merkel’s humanitarianism at once brought her accolades from some quarters and vilification from others during the surge of refugees into Europe in 2015 and 2016. To many, Merkel is seen as the moral leader who steered through multiple crises at home and around the world by looking for compromise out of respect for all those at the table. Former President Barack Obama is said to have told her, “Thanks to you, the center has held through many storms.”
Yet Merkel does not don the traditional mantle of leader, saying that “leadership is never up to one person or country.”
Merkel’s distinctive understanding of leadership may very well be what steered her to successfully be elected Chancellor of Germany three times, and also what steered her to voluntarily walk away from the role.