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The Charms of DSK

IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn
Jewel Samad | AFP | Getty Images
IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Few of us have ever had the chance to experience the charms of former-IMF head Dominque Strauss-Kahn. And this makes all the talk of his legendary diplomatic skills a bit abstract. What exactly does he do that makes him so effective?

Well now we have a rare glimpse into his skills, thanks to a letter he wrote to the staff of the IMF.

I’ll print the full letter below. But let’s make a few observations about just what a wonderfully effective letter it is.

First, it’s very personal and informal. There’s none of the usual awkwardness politicians have when discussing things in the first person. You can detect awkwardness when politicians say things like “this has been a very trying time for my family, my staff and myself.”

What is the ungrammatically reflexive “myself” doing there? It’s there because the politician is uncomfortable with informality in a very serious situation—and believes that a retreat into ungrammatical formalism is the better choice.

None of this for DSK. He gets the pronouns right, and in the right order. The past days have been extremely painful for me and my family,” he writes.

It’s direct. DSK is talking to “you.” A number of times it seems to be almost addressed to a single individual—“I wanted very much to be in touch with you,” “when I first met you” and “I will cheer for you.”

He doesn’t avoid talking about the accusations—but also doesn’t dwell on it. It’s a “personal nightmare.” He’s “confident” that “I will be exonerated.” It’s just enough about his circumstances that he doesn’t appear to be avoiding them. And not so much that he seems to have become a solipsist, viewing the world through the lens of his legal crisis.

Most of the letter is spent talking about the accomplishments of his staff at the IMF. He does nothing to take credit for these accomplishments. Indeed, he assigns the staff credit for his own accomplishments. They “sharpened his vision” and gave it “content.”

None of this reads as phony—you get the feeling that he genuinely looks at the world this way.

Now here’s the letter in full:

Dear Colleagues:

You have seen my letter of resignation as Managing Director of the Fund—one of the most difficult communications of my life. I wanted very much to be in touch with you, personally and directly, to express my profound sadness and frustration in having to leave under these circumstances. I am doing so because I believe it to be in the best interests of the institution that I care about so much, and of you, the staff, whom I deeply appreciate and admire.

The past days have been extremely painful for me and my family, as I know they have been for everyone at the Fund. I am very sorry that this has been the case. I deny in the strongest possible terms the allegations which I now face; I am confident that the truth will come out and I will be exonerated. In the meantime, I cannot accept that the Fund—and you dear colleagues—should in any way have to share my own personal nightmare. So, I had to go.

When I first met you, (I am picturing us in the atrium), I confess that all I really had was a sense of commitment to the Fund’s founding vision of global economic cooperation. This last phrase has always been more than just a slogan for me: I come from a place painfully aware of the slide from economic damage to political strife to war, destruction, and human misery. But I had only the vaguest ideas about how to go about the task. I thank you, all of you, for having sharpened that vision not just for me, but for the world, and for having given it content.

The Fund’s response to the crisis has been much praised. I don’t want to leave without remembering with you some key milestones. The early case for fiscal stimulus. The support, analytical and otherwise, for the crisis response by the G20 and the world. The introduction of sensible flexibility in lending tools (FCLs, etc). The large deployment of resources—both securing them, and using them, including in Western Europe for the first time in decades. New tools for identifying crisis risks, like the early warning exercise. Stronger engagement with the emerging market countries, especially in Asia, and with the low-income countries, especially in Africa, including with the new zero interest rate loans. The downsizing of the Fund—difficult as it was—and putting the Fund’s finances on a sound basis with the new income model. And the historic governance reforms, which have strengthened the sense of ownership across the entire global membership.

I also don’t want to leave without telling you—as perhaps I did not do sufficiently before—that I understand and deeply value all the other work that you did. Milestones are easy to remember and quote, but the daily work of the institution is much, much broader. And in your daily work, you invariably delivered: you provided invaluable expertise, be it in high-profile or low-key ways, in countless bilateral surveillance and technical assistance missions; you pushed past bureaucratic caution to confront the world’s policymakers with difficult facts; you quietly accomplished all the back office tasks without which nothing can be done; you embraced innovation in every area; and your dedication was without peer.

I do not doubt, not for one instant, that what the institution has achieved in the last three and a half years is the fruit of your thinking, your work, your conviction. You should be proud of what you have achieved. A tremendous amount of work remains to be done, at a very crucial time; you will deliver time after time, and I will cheer for you when you do so.

I feel privileged and humbled to have worked with such an extraordinary group of people. I will cherish our time together.

And so my dear colleagues, I say thank you, good luck for the future, and au revoir.

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