Over and again as the economic crisis ripples across the world, one theme has recurred: the need for leadership. When people are fighting adversity every day they want politicians whom they trust, and if those don't appear there is trouble. In Tunisia earlier this year, a 14 percent unemployment rate became the spark for the Arab spring. In Greece in recent weeks an indecisive government increased both the nation's financial chaos and its mental anguish: the turning point (along with the end of his career) came when prime minister George Papandreou announced a referendum on the bailout deal that he had already agreed on, spreading confusion and even more tumult across Greece and the wider world.
Yesterday two high profile premiers resigned, Greece's Papandreou and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. Both men tried with some persistence to manoeuver their way through the greatest challenges their countries have faced in decades -- and ultimately failed. In the short-term their careers are over. As George Bradt writes on Forbes.com, casting their actions in an approving light: "Sometimes leaders need to lead. Sometimes they need to follow. And sometimes they need to get out of the way of the pursuit of purpose."
Meanwhile, though, some nations are coasting this financial wave. Their governments have been rewarded with popular acclaim.
In October, Argentina's president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was re-elected, largely due to the country's fast-growing economy. Her policies are the same as those of her late husband Nestor Kirchner. When he came to power in 2003 Argentina had just defaulted on its $100 billion sovereign debt and its finances were a mess. Now though, as the Washington Post reports, demand from China for soy and other agricultural products has caused the economy shoot up. Over the past eight years growth has occurred at an astonishing annual average of 7.6 percent, and de Kirchner is using this money to fund social programs and energy subsidies, which further fuels her popularity.
Brazil's female premier is faring just as well. Responding to popular anger over corruption, president Dilma Rousseff has begun what the media have dubbed a spring clean, introducing anti-corruption measures and a far-reaching freedom of information act. According to Reuters, Brazil loses 2.3 percent of its economic output because of corruption every year. Not only have Rousseff's actions driven her approval ratings up, they also make Brazil a better place to do business.
Despite their successes, the future for both these politicians remains complex. Rousseff must strike a balance between taking a hard line on political cronyism and sustaining good relations within a 16-party coalition. In Argentina de Kirchner faces criticism from the U.S. and other lenders that want their money back.
That's the thing about leadership -- it's far from easy. But it is those who are decisive and brave enough, who really manage a country or company, who will win -- and keep -- the confidence of the people. On November 19 I will moderate a session at the Medays conference in Morocco, with the former president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, the former prime minister of Malaysia, the CEO of Microsoft Africa, and others. We will be addressing this vital question: what sort of leadership do we need to overcome the crisis and save the economy?
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