Cami Anderson begins her excellent Forbes article like this: “By the end of February, leaders across the globe were looking at the same facts: An invisible and dangerous enemy was fast approaching. COVID-19 was highly contagious, unpredictable, and deadly, even with an aggressive public policy response in China. So, what to do? How to prepare and respond? Leaders of cities, states and countries faced an unprecedented test.
“The ones who passed this test with flying colors are disproportionately women. This is despite the fact that they make up only 7% of heads of state [emphasis added].”
Let’s call out just a few of the women leaders who have stepped up so successfully to meet the challenges of this global pandemic: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland, President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen, and a local favorite for me — San Francisco Mayor London Breed who took action days before California’s governor or Los Angeles’ mayor did.
It is not my intention to make this a contest between men and women leaders. My purpose, in this article and in my life’s work, is to point out a crucial resource that is being ignored, dismissed, and disrespected — and one which our current world sorely needs: the characteristics, strengths and skills that women bring to the leadership table.
What does a leader “look” like?
“When Americans think about leadership, they think about men, period. A recent study asked both men and women to identify a leader they admire and 80% picked a man,” says Cami Anderson, echoing something I see when I open a talk or training about leadership with this brief exercise, “Close your eyes and tell me what you picture when I say the word ‘leader.’ What comes to your mind?” Almost to a person, among several hundred people I’ve asked, they describe a man in a suit or some type of uniform.
This perception represents a male-dominated leadership model that is clearly outdated. We all need to recognize that the imbalance in this model prevents each of us (regardless of gender identity) from truly becoming the effective leaders our world needs. This fact couldn’t have been brought out in stronger terms than the world leadership response to COVID-19.
Research on leadership finds that the qualities of excellent leadership are a combination of “feminine” and “masculine,” and are found within both genders to varying degrees. And, as Ms Anderson points out, “it turns out women are just as good and sometimes better at some of what we think of as male qualities, like being decisive and making tough calls. “Bobbi Thomason, an assistant professor of applied behavioral science at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, says that…women have to cultivate ‘both the more “traditional male” qualities and “traditional female” qualities.’ Having a diverse repertoire of leadership strategies has clearly served women well in leading through this current crisis.”
I agree! And, in fact, this is why I created Comfluential™ Leadership training which marries these “traditional” qualities to empower women to step into ALL of their leadership strengths, fully and unapologetically.
Following are two of the “typically female” leadership qualities which Ms Anderson explores, that have been particularly important in managing this crisis.
“Female leaders do not suffer from overconfidence — they seek input and listen”
“Men are… overconfident, and it creates blind spots in how they lead. They are also much more likely to lead by what a McKinsey study calls ‘control and corrective action’,’’ says Ms Anderson. (As a retired military officer) I call it “command” vs. “influence.”
She goes on to cite experts and research which find that women are more likely to cultivate a diverse set of advisors and networks that help them succeed. They are also more likely to pay for good advice — and to follow it. Especially because of the complexity of today’s problems and the diversity of people leaders serve, these are crucial qualities for any leader to possess. As Ms Anderson states, “the only way to save lives is to skillfully act upon the advice of those who truly know the evolving science.”
“Female leaders rank higher not just on people-orientation, but also on vision-setting”
“Many studies have shown that women are, indeed, more focused on building community and teams.” One finding cited from the McKinsey study is that women are more “people-oriented” — and spend more time developing and coaching other leaders in their organization. The author comments that “unleashing collective potential is a key leadership skill.”
At the same time, the McKinsey study found that “organizations with more than three women in the C-suite scored higher on employee survey questions about ‘direction’ and ‘innovation.’ Women tended to display (statistically more than their male counterparts) two things during and after a crisis. The first was ‘expectations and rewards’: defining roles, clarifying expectations, and rewarding achievement targets. The second was ‘inspiration’: offering a compelling vision of the future and an optimistic implementation plan.
“In short, women possess the qualities of transformational leaders — vision, inspiration, direction-setting and out-of-the-box thinking — though so much of even the recent press has focused on the softer skills of how they lead.”
“I don’t think any of us can afford to miss the lessons here”
Ms Anderson concludes with this powerful commentary: “If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it should cause us to be concerned that we don’t have our best leaders running things. It turns out women can display a host of leadership skills that are not at all limited to the things we talk about and hear about all the time [emphasis added].
“The story of the spread and unthinkable human tragedies of COVID-19 is the ultimate case study in high-stakes leadership. I don’t think any of us can afford to miss the lessons here. All leaders, including men, can learn from what we have seen women do in this crisis.”
I couldn’t agree more. Further, I believe that the future of leadership is in our hands. We can choose to remain entrenched in the old masculine model of “command” or “control” and sit in our ivory towers bemoaning the fate of the world. Or we can embrace the marriage of masculine and feminine models to change the very fabric of our world for the better.
Linda Patten is a Leadership Trainer for women entrepreneurs and change-makers. Her vision for every woman is to become the natural leader she is meant to be, through teaching an empowering mindset, masculine AND feminine leadership skills, and how to activate a vision into a full-bodied business or social change movement.
For opportunities to awaken and empower the leader within you, please visit Dare2LeadwithLinda.