The Secret Remedy: Female Leadership During Crises

By Eva Szekeres, MA, PCCThe world has been inspired by exemplary female leadership — in Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark — during the current COVID-19 crisis. In spite of the fact that women are massively underrepresented among the heads of states (only 7%), they are the ones leading the countries which are the most successful at fighting the global pandemic.*

Why are female leaders more successful at handling the current health crisis?

At first sight we might think along the lines of “traditional” female attributes: women tend to communicate better and act with more empathy and compassion. They inspire trust because they are generally more directed towards others, more “motherly,” with higher emotional intelligence. Their social role and what people expect from them is also more aligned with the common good: taking care of others, and of the health and well being of society.

Instead of accepting these common stereotypes, let’s look at it more from a developmental point of view.

  • What are the qualities of a successful leader?
  • What insights can we draw from observing these female leaders?
  • How can we improve our own leadership style?

First of all, we can see a good balance of strength and compassion — emphasizing that these qualities are not exclusive but rather complementary in the toolbox of a good leader. These bold female leaders were decisive, made tough calls from very early on, while starting from a place of great compassion and expressing empathy towards their people. They did not see exhibiting emotions as weakness — on the contrary, it made these leaders much more human, which helped others to relate to them in a deeply meaningful way.

Female leaders are not hesitating to seek input, and listen to their wide and diverse network which help them succeed. They also know that they have a better chance to be followed if they don’t stand alone. Instead of being overconfident, they are more likely to seek expert advice — and demonstrate humility. Being women leaders they were maybe less constrained by traditional methods of problem solving, and often used creative, flexible ways to solve those problems, which is a sign of openness and curiosity.

A third observation is that women also tend to be more people oriented and less self-interested — when New Zealand’s Prime Minister and other government officials took a 20% pay cut, it was one of the most inspiring and effective example of putting others ahead of your self interest, and leading by example. Though women often struggle to advocate for themselves, they usually excel in acting on behalf of the greater good. These female leaders dared to make an unpopular decision for the sake of the common good, and were not worried about their status, image, or future promotion, sending a very powerful and inspiring message: we are all in it together, and we also stand by the consequences of our decisions.

For the sake of considering the whole picture, we need to state that women who make it to the top, in spite of all the hurdles that they need to overcome in the current situation, have to be, and are, exceptional. The leaders mentioned above most often come from a cultural context that promotes gender equality, and support and protect their female leaders, which obviously contributes to their success, too.

But overall, we can say that these women are all well rounded, transformational leaders with a diverse set of leadership strategies. They told the truth, set very clear directions, and had strong task orientation, instead of wasting time on the blaming game and managing perceptions. They used “out of the box”, creative, flexible solutions, listened to experts and used smart methods. They made tough decisions early on, inspired people with a compelling vision, and implemented an optimistic plan to achieve it.

Being a women doesn’t make you a better leader — but developing some female leadership qualities can definitely benefit your career. We can all learn from what women leaders manifested during this crisis.

  • What inspires you most in these female leaders?
  • What will you start doing?
  • What will you stop doing?

To learn more about assertiveness, power, and the benefits of working with an executive coach: schedule a consultation with Eva.

* Source: Cami Anderson: Why Do Women Make Such Good Leaders During COVID-19? Forbes, April 19, 2020.