Du brauchst einen geheimen Garten: Was mir Belgiens Ex-Premier Yves Leterme beigebracht hat

Vor einiger Zeit habe ich eine Reihe von ehemaligen Staatspräsidenten und Premierministern auf der ganzen Welt angeschrieben. Ich wollte von Ihnen wissen, wie sie mit ein bisschen Abstand über ihre Arbeit denken, welche Schlüsse und Lehren sie aus ihrem jeweiligen politischen Engagement gezogen haben. Einer, der besonders zügig antwortete, war Yves Leterme, einst Belgischer Premierminister und Außenminister und vorher Ministerpräsident der Region Flandern. Hier seine Zeilen:

„During my professional life I have been fortunate to have held a wide range of political positions.
When I look back, it is hard to believe that 35 years have already passed since I left school in my home town armed – for sure – with some useful knowledge but also filled with dreams and ideals.  And yes, since then, when I started to engage in politics, eager to hunt for and achieve my ambitions, I can certainly think of some lessons learned. There are many but three that I would emphasize:

  1. Try to always remember and hold on to the ideals and dreams that motivated your earliest engagement; believe in what you do and do what you believe in;
  2. Avoid being emotionally dependent of your professional and political ambitions and activities; there is more to life than your job or engagement;
  3. Always try to imagine or to figure out what are the objectives and arguments of your counterpart; truth is never one-sided;

Today, several trends limit the space for stand-alone individual decision-making:  the growing complexity of society, globalization, the challenges of  coalition government,  multi-layered governance and the increased pressure from  (an almost co-governing) media and civil society,  Political decision-making is therefore increasingly a matter of compromise, patience and of handling a series of mostly  long  and opaque procedures.
To successfully lead a political party, a government or an intergovernmental organization you must seek inclusive decision-making: try to have as many people on board as possible. This means compromise and consequently; radical, profiled, clear and easy-to-explain conclusions or positions are rare. In order to stay motivated and to be able to convince other people. You must regularly check whether the outcome you have painstakingly negotiated still lives up to your own basic ideals despite the compromises you have made.
Political engagement is time-consuming and absorbs endless physical and emotional energy. Although it is rewarding to have a professional activity or an engagement that feels more like a hobby than as  a job, the flip-side is that a political activity can also be all-consuming of personal life, family and hobbies leaving you with only the political mission but with little else.  Instead of having a nine-to-five job, the real “job” is in fact an egocentric passion that dominates the hours from five to nine. While this can be a source of personal achievement and success, most of the time it requires a 200% focus to stay successful and ahead of the field. The flip-side however is, very often, that after a period of time there is almost nothing left of one’s personal life and self apart beyond professional activity.

So, whatever the degree of commitment, it is important to always have a part of one’s life outside the realm of political engagement, beyond the “job”. It is important to always have a kind of ‘secret garden’, closed to media and to most of one’s  colleagues and which is shared only with the people that really count in one’s personal life.

When you work on finding solutions to a problem and, even more importantly, when you negotiate, it is of course of utmost importance to know in detail what the problem or challenge is about. If and when you lack the time to be perfectly on top of all technical aspects yourself, you must surround yourself with good people; trusted advisers that have that have clear insight and a depth of knowledge. This is the only way to have a chance of being successful in finding solutions, in convincing others, in striking deals, in brokering agreements.
However, it is only very rarely the case that solutions to problems can be found and agreements between dissenting opinions forged, on the basis purely of theoretical knowledge and technicalities. You may well be right and that is important, but it is far more important to convince people that you are right or at least that they agree with your approach. In almost every case the necessary consent of people, the readiness for people to agree is linked to their personal conviction, to their subjective feelings, the very specific objectives they pursue, their position in the group, the community or party they represent, the value-added of the compromise for themselves. Therefore you must find out what others think, how they reason and what is driving them and that is exactly what my experience has taught me.
Essentially, it is about trying to excel, about making your ambitions come true without pushing yourself and others to unsustainable limits. It is about planning your future and re-designing it if needed, but without losing sight of your ultimate goal your driving passion.“