I remember sitting in a meeting at the International Monetary Fund back in the 1980s, debating the meaning of a small annotation in the margin of a memorandum that had just returned from the office of the managing director. It was just a squiggle; yet we debated possible interpretations for a full half an hour!
This is a small example of what is well known to IMF insiders – the post of managing director is not to be taken lightly in an institution that operates like a well-disciplined army, with staff looking up to the unquestioned general for decisive leadership.
This is why the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been so disruptive to the functioning of the IMF. It is also why Christine Lagarde – who following Tuesday’s public backing from Tim Geithner, US treasury secretary, will assume the post shortly barring any legal complications – must move on five key issues in her first few months at the helm.