ach week we present an influential woman whose career and style has inspired the team at Silkarmour to aim higher and dress better. This week’s Silkarmour woman is Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund and former French Minister.
Long before The Guardian declared her the world’s sexiest and most powerful woman, Lagarde’s career started in law in 1981 when she joined Baker & McKenzie. The first of many ‘first female’ accolades in her career, she was made partner after merely six years, later appointed as the first female Chairman in 1999. Her ability to spar with others without being coquette is what sets her aside in politics, having persuaded the French to adapt a more flexible approach to their 35-hour week and notorious focus on holidays and days off after returning from Chicago. Once dubbed ‘Madam La Gaffe’ by the press, Lagarde’s charm is now what champions her voice in the field; reports include her Chicago residence janitor kissing her hello, saying how much she missed her when she visited, Lagarde buying an employee an egg cup on a business trip to the Netherlands because she liked them and sending a journalist a birthday cake to his hotel room. Evidently, being liked isn’t always possible, especially considering the company she moved on to will always invite controversy, but charm and a positive image can at least sustain working relationships.
To say that announcing her candidacy for the role of Managing Direct at the International Monetary Fund was well received is a bit of an understatement. In receiving support from the British, German, Chinese, Indian, Brazilian, Russian and American governments, her appointment as MD in June 2011 was declared a “victory for France” by Nicholas Sarkozy. It’s not often a woman is met with a warm welcome in such a prestigious role, but considering the circumstances in which Dominique Strauss-Kahn was ousted, it takes a woman with lashings of confidence and capability to restore the morale of employees in a company that had been smeared by scandal. It comes as no surprise then that Lagarde was recently elected into a second term at the IMF, facing no competitors in the election and with praise from the US for doing “an exceptional job”.
Naturally, no mention of Lagarde goes without commentary on her wardrobe. Instead of simply wearing colourful versions of the traditional suit, Lagarde introduces flashes of colour into her usually neutrally toned ensembles using accessories. So famous are her scarves that commentators on her wardrobe often muse about the underlying messages they believe prompted her to choose a particular scarf to a meeting. Although Lagarde has been criticised for indulging in fashion when her job deals with the realities of global devastation, she simply dresses for the job she was hired to do; just with a great deal more panache than most.
Lagarde’s ability to command her role with rigor yet remain press-friendly in a controversial role is a powerful trait, demonstrating her ability to strike the perfect balance. She was named the sixth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes in 2015 whilst simultaneously being profiled in Vogue and appearing on the cover of French Vanity Fair, gaining respect and accolade from figures in both industries. In exercising diplomacy and picking her battles, Largarde’s re-election to the IMF is clearly fronted by her ability to handle strong personalities and sustain relationships with her colleagues. Being diplomatic however has never hindered Lagarde in achieving her goals; after all, this is a woman who once walked out of a prestigious job interview with one of the best law firms in Paris, having been told she’d never make partner because she was a woman. Compromisers need not apply.
Career Golden Nuggets
Grit your teeth and smile – in the face of adversity, go, they don’t deserve you
Dare – Taking a chance is the most important part of making your career aspirations come to fruition.
Leadership is about encouraging people – It's about enabling them to achieve what they can achieve – and to do that with a purpose.
Don’t let the bastards get to you – hang on with what you are doing and just don’t give up. Stand up.
Success is never competing – it is an endless combat. Each morning one must put one’s capacities to the test again.