The world is currently going through a dilemma as everyone is looking for examples of true leadership in a crisis. All the main stakeholders from around the world seem to fail to coup with the current situation created by outbreak of COVID-19.
However, female leaders are stepping up to show the world how to manage the atrocity that we all have been going through.
Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, stood up early and calmly told her countrymen that this was a serious bug that would infect up to 70% of the population. “It’s serious,” she said, “take it seriously.” She did, so they did too. Testing began right from the get-go. Germany jumped right over the phases of denial, anger and disingenuousness we’ve seen elsewhere. The country’s numbers are far below its European neighbors, and there are signs they may be able to start loosening restrictions relatively soon.
Among the first and the fastest moves was Tsai Ing-wen’s in Taiwan. Back in January, at the first sign of a new illness, she introduced 124 measures to block the spread, without having to resort to the lockdowns that have become common elsewhere. She is now sending 10 million face masks to the US and Europe. Tsai managed what CNN has called “among the world’s best” responses, keeping the epidemic under control, still reporting only six deaths.
Iceland, under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is offering free coronavirus testing to all its citizens and will become a key case study in the true spread and fatality rates of COVID-19. Most countries have limited testing for people with active symptoms. Iceland is going the whole hog. In proportion to its population, the country has already screened five times as many people as South Korea has, and instituted a thorough tracking system that means they haven’t had to lockdown… or shut schools.
Sanna Marin became the world’s youngest head of state when she was elected last December in Finland. It took a millennial leader to spearhead using social media influencers as key agents in battling the coronavirus crisis. Recognizing that not everyone reads the press, they are inviting influencers of any age to spread fact-based information on managing the pandemic.
Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, had the innovative idea of using television to talk directly to her country’s children. She was building on the short, 3-minute press conference that Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had held a couple of days earlier. Solberg held a dedicated press conference where no adults were allowed. She responded to kids’ questions from across the country, taking time to explain why it was OK to feel scared. The originality and obviousness of the idea take one’s breath away. How many other simple, humane innovations would more female leadership unleash?
The empathy and care which all of these female leaders have showered seem to be something from an alternate universe than the one we have been breathing in. Their words and commitment on videos show how they are close to the heart of their people. Who knew leaders could sound like this? Now we do.
Now, compare these leaders and stories with the so-called big shot strongmen. The leadership by men is seeing using the crisis to gain authoritarianism: blame-“others”, capture-the-judiciary, demonize-the-journalists, and blanket their country in I-will-never-retire darkness (Trump, Bolsonaro, Obrador, Modi, Imran, Duterte, Orban, Putin, Netanyahu…).
These women leaders are case study sightings of the seven leadership traits men may want to learn from women. It’s time we recognized it and elected more of it.