Seis estudios de estrategia mundial

What’s in it for me? Scrutinize and learn from the strategies of six very different leaders.

In most societies and most times, leaders act like managers: they maintain the status quo. During periods of crisis, however, leaders must act, not just manage. 

In this regard, there’s a lesson to be learned from great political leaders – leaders who have risen up to the occasion, transformed the state of affairs, and guided their nations toward better futures.

This idea is a study of six of these leaders. It’s based on a book by Henry Kissinger, who is a renowned statesman himself. 


You’ll learn

  • what tactics Charles de Gaulle used to will himself into leadership;
  • how Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore into a thriving nation; and
  • why Margaret Thatcher refused to acquiesce to centrist voters.

Konrad Adenauer used the strategy of humility to restore order in postwar Germany.

After the end of World War II in Europe, Germany was in a state of disintegration. It had been utterly defeated militarily, it had lost its international legitimacy, and it was divided and occupied by Allied forces who served as the de facto rulers of its four regions. Food shortages starved the population while the infant mortality rate grew to twice that of the rest of Western Europe. Black markets ran amok, mail services stopped entirely, and trains were unpredictable at best.

More than these physical burdens, Germany also carried a heavy moral burden. It needed a leader who could help heal the nation’s wounds, restore dignity and legitimacy, and determine how it would walk forward into the future. In West Germany, that leader would be Konrad Adenauer, the former mayor of Cologne.

Adenauer had been an opponent of Hitler before the war had even begun, and his first public speech after the war was representative of this attitude. Speaking at the University of Cologne, he asked his audience, How is it possible that the Nazis came to power? He proclaimed that Germany needed to come to terms with its past before it could find a way toward a better future. From these words, it was clear that Adenauer’s strategy would be one of humility – of acknowledging and making amends for the past while integrating with the Europe of the future. 

To that end, Adenauer approved a $1.5 billion reparations agreement with the Israeli government. He also conducted a series of war crime investigations that were focused primarily on high-ranking former Nazis.

Adenauer knew that Germany could not survive without outside help. It thus needed to abandon its previous nationalistic fervor as well as its tendency to manipulate its geographic position to gain favor, power, and authority. So, during his time as chancellor, Adenauer focused on strengthening his ties with the West, particularly the United States. He also sought reconciliation with France. 

And his efforts were a success. In 1955, West Germany became a sovereign state, marking the end of the Allied military occupation of its territory. Two days after this had been declared, Adenauer traveled to Paris, where West Germany then assumed equal status within NATO. The strategy of humility had helped Adenauer’s Germany achieve its goal of equality. 

Charles de Gaulle became the leader of the Free French using the strategy of will.

The sound of distant Luftwaffe airstrikes greeted Charles de Gaulle on June 5, 1940 – the day he established his office in the Defense Ministry. He had just recently been appointed the undersecretary of defense after having served as a professional soldier. However, within a week, the French government retreated from the capital. The prime minister resigned, and an armistice with Hitler was planned. Under these conditions, de Gaulle fled to London from Bordeaux.

The day after he arrived, de Gaulle gave a speech – the book authorized by Prime Minister Churchill – the book calling on all French officers and men in Britain to get in touch with him. Without saying so outright, he was forming a French resistance movement. 

This was an extraordinary declaration. Not only was it a call for French citizens living in Britain to revolt against their home country – the book it was also one made by a barely known soldier-turned-junior minister, France’s lowest-ranking general. Yet here he was, calling for French soldiers to join him in opposition. De Gaulle’s actions in this instance were an exemplary case of his strategy of will

Through this strategy, de Gaulle used his words to create alternate realities, thereby willing them into existence. One particularly remarkable instance of this came on June 14, 1944, in the French town of Bayeux, which the British had captured a week earlier. Bayeux was, at the time, still administered by French authorities from the part of France that was in collaboration with Hitler. Yet, in de Gaulle’s speech, he spoke as if they had been members of the French resistance since the beginning of the war. He also failed to mention the British and American troops that had actually been the ones to liberate Bayeux.

Why? De Gaulle was afraid that Allied forces would attempt to form a transitional government in France before he could do so himself. He needed to appear in France as soon as possible, styling himself as the new French figurehead before the Allies could. 

Several weeks later, this strategy culminated when de Gaulle made his victory speech in Paris. Once again, he failed to mention the Allied armies who had helped liberate France and instead claimed that Paris had been “liberated by itself.” De Gaulle wanted to restore France’s faith in itself, even if it meant twisting reality in the process. He wanted to summon a sense of patriotism and national spirit, turning what was in large part an Anglo-American victory into a French one.

And it worked. De Gaulle’s parade down the Champs-Élysées that day seared him and his legitimacy into history, making him the leader of France until his resignation in 1969. 

Richard Nixon developed his policy around the goal of equilibrium.

Richard Nixon was always a complicated and controversial figure in American history. His name is inextricably tied to the Watergate scandal, which occurred under his watch and made him the only president to date to have resigned from office. 

However, Nixon also reshaped the nation’s foreign policy during his time in office. He did so based on a strategy of equilibrium, in which he sought a balance of power among the world’s great nations. Nixon viewed peace not as the status quo, but as a fragile and precarious state that must be carefully maintained. This could only happen if nations were balanced rather than one dominating the rest.

In Nixon’s view, the US should be the primary shaper of this equilibrium. If it dropped out of the balance, global chaos would result. America needed to simultaneously keep up strong alliances while maintaining a dialogue with adversaries.

So, how did he do it? One major step that Nixon made was extending a diplomatic opening to China. For years, the US and China had avoided any high-level diplomatic contact. But Nixon believed that the possibility for global peace would be strengthened if that could be rectified.

Unsuccessful attempts were made in 1969 and early 1970. But in October 1970, Nixon and Kissinger were able to establish contact with Chairman Mao Zedong through the Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai. Zhou indicated that China was willing to negotiate with the US on the status of Taiwan, which was disputed. Over the next several weeks, Nixon and Mao communicated via Kissinger and Zhou with the utmost secrecy, lest any information accidentally fall into Soviet hands.

In 1971, Kissinger made a secret visit to Beijing. During that meeting, it was agreed that Nixon would officially visit China in February 1972. The result of this summit between Nixon and Mao was the Shanghai Communiqué, which to this day represents a major part of the basis of relations between the US, China, and Taiwan. 

After the Communiqué was established, the US and China began collaborating to contain Soviet power. At one point, in February 1973, Mao even urged Kissinger to devote more of his time to Japan so the country wouldn’t feel neglected. Mao preferred Japan to develop closer relations with the US than with the Soviet Union. 

Despite the closer ideological similarity between China and the Soviet Union than China and the United States, for Nixon, national interests took priority over philosophical concerns. This was the strategy of equilibrium in action. 

Anwar Sadat carefully transcended Egypt’s reigning paradigm to achieve peace.

Dressed in a khaki military uniform and an overcoat, Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt, filled his pipe, lit it, and began smoking. In his deep baritone, he told Kissinger, “I have a plan for you. I have named it the Kissinger Plan.” 

This plan, it turned out, was a version of a proposal that Kissinger had already offered. In it, Kissinger had suggested that, to mitigate the conflict between Egypt and Israel, interim arrangements should be made such that both sides could adjust to the peace process step by step. This proposal had been rejected by Egypt’s director of intelligence – the book but now Sadat was accepting it.

Sadat’s plan was stunning because Kissinger had come into the negotiations expecting difficulty. The first step that Sadat proposed – the book an Israeli withdrawal across two-thirds of the Sinai Peninsula– the book was unrealistic. However, it still showed his willingness to proceed, potentially, with a series of interim arrangements. 

In a way, this strategy was similar to the approach that Sadat had previously taken in his domestic policies. He transcended the strategies of his well-regarded predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser – the book but only in stages. Rather than overwhelm his people by changing the paradigm all at once, he did so progressively, reaffirming several of Nasser’s goals while gradually, almost imperceptibly, departing from others. 

The result was that, after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Sadat finally felt comfortable extending a diplomatic hand to the US – the book something to which Nasser would have been adamantly opposed. By committing to a peace agreement with Israel, facilitated by the US, Sadat was doing what had been nigh-unthinkable before. If it went wrong, Sadat risked humiliation and potentially the ruin of his nation.

But it went right. the book In 1978, Sadat signed a peace treaty with the Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin: the Camp David agreement, for which the pair jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize. 

This victory was celebrated by Arabs both inside and outside of Egypt. However, the peace treaty was less acceptable to members of Muslim extremist groups within Egypt, who vehemently opposed Israel. Arab League members severed diplomatic relations with Egypt over the treaty, further inflaming tensions within the nation. The result was the assassination of Sadat at a military parade. 

Despite his tragic ending, Sadat’s leadership showed his willingness to guide his nation into a different future, respectful of the past yet transcending its errors. This was, indeed, his strategy: that of transcendence. It was only his enemies who found this concept intolerable.

Thanks to Lee Kuan Yew’s strategy of excellence, Singapore became a thriving new nation.

Before 1965, the nation of Singapore didn’t exist. 

Originally established as a British colonial trading post, it was technically ruled by British Indian authorities. Then, in 1963, it merged with Malaya as part of a new confederation called Malaysia. However, only two years passed before Malaysia decided to unceremoniously dump Singapore from the merger. The tiny nation was left entirely on its own, and its survival depended on the efforts of its young, dynamic leader, Lee Kuan Yew.

One aspect that Lee immediately knew he needed to address was Singapore’s ethnic disunification. Its people were mainly Chinese, Malay, or Indian, with smaller Arabic, Armenian, and Jewish populations. As a result, there was no common language among them – the book and no common tie making them feel like members of the same country. 

To encourage unity, ethnic mixing, and a common sense of identity, housing districts were given racial and income quotas. Ultimately, this eliminated segregation, allowing people of different racial and cultural backgrounds to develop a national consciousness. 

Lee also successfully answered the question of which language Singapore would adopt as its own, given that so many different ones were spoken on the island. His solution was to adopt a bilingual education system, in which all English-language schools taught Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil, and all other schools mandated English classes. That way, every family could keep its mother tongue and communicate in English.

Speaking of education, this was a priority for Lee, who, in his first nine years in power, devoted an astonishing one-third of Singapore’s entire budget to education. This was made possible because of Lee’s emphasis on eliminating corruption. His party passed laws imposing harsh penalties for engaging in corrupt behavior at any level of government. Socially, corruption itself became a symbol of moral failure, a betrayal of the nation’s values. 

In all areas, Lee insisted on excellence – the book on not simply surviving but flourishing. He had to establish the expectation of excellence as a norm for the country, so that long after he was gone, his successors would carry his values forward into the future. All of society needed to believe that mediocrity was unacceptable and that transgressions would not be tolerated. By collectively committing to success, Singaporeans would stick together despite their lack of ethnic or cultural ties.

Thanks to Lee’s efforts, Singapore is now one of the world’s most successful countries. It is Asia’s wealthiest nation per capita, and it regularly ranks within the top percentile in measures of human well-being.

Margaret Thatcher helped heal a faltering Britain with her strategy of conviction.

During the 1970s, the common wisdom in politics was that only centrists could win elections. To get votes, you had to capture the middle ground.

One woman, however, disagreed. She asserted that deferring to the center muddied the electoral waters and left voters without real choices. Instead, politicians had to construct and fight for real policies that would clash meaningfully with those from the other side. Rather than seek out the middle ground, she preferred to make the middle ground seek her out. 

This was the conviction of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. Thatcher felt very strongly about her limited-government, Hayekian economic views, and she intended to enact them.

Thatcher’s strategy of conviction didn’t always win her fans. One of her most notorious and inflammatory decisions was one she made as secretary of state for education and science, ten years before becoming prime minister. In that position, she cut a free milk program for primary-school children and earned herself the unflattering nickname “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher.”

Other times, her policies did bring in swaths of voters. For example, one of her privatization-focused programs, “right-to-buy,” gave council-house tenants the ability to buy their homes on favorable terms. Many of these primarily working-class people became new Conservative voters. 

Thatcher knew what it took to win over the middle ground. But that was far from her only objective. Her ultimate goal was to fix Britain’s economy.

Britain was in an economic crisis during the 1970s. Taxes were burdensomely high, productivity was low, and inflation trapped employers and workers in a vicious cycle of wage increases followed by increases in price. 

To combat this, Thatcher took a decisive approach. Not long after she took office, her government raised interest rates to 17 percent, leading to a recession. This meant that in 1980, the GDP fell by 2 percent and unemployment skyrocketed. Conservative Party members grew skeptical, but Thatcher held her ground. She cut bloated state programs, opened the stock market to foreign traders, and restrained public expenditure. 

By the end of Thatcher’s time in office, inflation had been cut in half, unemployment had been reduced by 5 percent, incomes had more than doubled, and the number of working days lost to labor disputes had been greatly reduced. Thatcher’s commitment to her economic policies had helped Britain’s decline come to an end. But more than that, her conviction created a new British center, shifting the economic views of the median voter rightward and forever changing the landscape of British politics.

Final summary

There’s no one-size-fits-all leadership strategy, just as there are no two leaders who are exactly alike. Unique historical circumstances shape leaders who, if the time is right, are able to seize upon a strategy that works for their time and place – thus transcending old paradigms and ushering in new ones. Konrad Adenauer, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Lee Kuan Yew, and Margaret Thatcher all transformed their respective societies using very different strategies, from humility to equilibrium, excellence to conviction. It’s important that we remember these leaders and their accomplishments in a world that seems to want to forget.

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