Are Women Really Better Leaders than Men? 6 Leadership Skills and 2 Secret Sauces That makes A Great Leader
Since the world has been thrust into chaos, we have started to take notice of how the leaders in each country are doing. More and more, we are seeing articles online that say that the women leaders are outstripping the men in how they handled the pandemic in their own countries, and there has been in a sense a bit of truth in that. We have seen how women have been fast to act in ordering lockdowns and border shutdowns, and how the trajectory of infections is going down because of these. People are saying this is because they are women, and they have maternal instincts, and they are more attuned to people.
To say that they are better leaders because they are women is not only a lazy way of analyzing the situation, it is also a bit sexist. It is more than just being female. For these leaders to have done well in this pandemic, they would need skills to navigate the waters. So what are some of the basic skills and competencies these leaders need to have to be effective in their role? Let us look at one example closer to home. My home, New Zealand.
Basic leadership skills
1.Communication Skills. This skill requires that the leader ask the question “ how well is the message designed and sent, and does she/he listen to people's response in order to adjust her/his delivery and message” . Since the start of the pandemic, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been on TV everyday, and people look forward to hearing her talk about what’s happening in New Zealand. How she responds to questions from reporters is calm and respectful, even at times when she is asked the same questions over and over again, and she has already answered that exact same question a second ago.
Her facial expression is relaxed and looking at her makes you feel calm. Her pace of speaking is not rushed. She is honest in what she tells the country and does not sugar coat the situation. Assigning Alert Levels to the situation allows clarity , so the people can wrap their heads around how far in or out the country is in the pandemic. It also tries to make sense of what people can expect to happen is a certain level. But her tone and her voice is also very calm, and reassuring that you instantly trust her and don’t feel afraid. Her messages are clear and concise, and she has chosen a clear slogan for how she wants the country to act in these times.” Be calm, be kind” . And this reflects her style. Most of all, she listens to the experts around her.
2.Decision-making. This refers to a leaders ability to systematically examine options, identify limits and outcomes, and risks to be considered. This also refers to the ability to weigh each possible alternative and select the best option that meets the desired goals and standard.
Jacinda has clearly stated that the goal is to save lives and the standard is to eliminate the virus from the population which meant being able to track and trace each case to a manageable level that would not overwhelm the country's health system. So her team looked at pandemic models and decided on the best course possible, at the earliest and quickest time possible. Her message when she moved the country to alert level 3 was “ We now have 102 cases, but so did Italy” and “Go early, go hard”.
3.Team Building and Delegation. This is empowering the team to more effectively execute a task and achieve a goal. “ How well do you empower individuals and team members so they believe that the consequences to their actions are their own?” This is also where you as a leader make sure that people feel safe because they know, you are stepping in the right direction.
To be effective at team building and delegation, you need to able to ask yourself these questions: “ Do I create a climate of trust when I assign each team member their tasks?” “ Do they feel like they can look at their roles and have some outside the box thinking and not fear reprimand or ridicule?” “Do I give them space and freedom to determine how they will accomplish the work or task delegated to them”.
The whole country can now be seen as one team. Everyone is playing from the same rulebook. The slogan of “ Go Early, Go Hard” "Stay Home, Save Lives " repeated time and time again. Jacinda keeps reminding people “Let us not waste the gains of the first half of the game by squandering the second half”. New Zealand is a country that loves their sports, so she is using the analogy of a game to make them understand what the government is doing. This has kept people inside and will do so for longer. Team building also means everyone is in the same boat. So when people's pay packet was slashed, Jacinda and a whole herd of her executive and Ministers also took a 20% pay cut. Just like she said “ We are all in this together”.
Dr. Ashley Bloomfield is the chief executive of the Ministry of health and the country's Director-General of Health. He is the face you will see on NZ television standing beside Jacinda every day as they go on live TV. She has allowed him to do his job, making recommendations on how to handle the pandemic, and she trusts him to do it well. You won't hear her second guessing him at all, unlike another world leader who second guesses their office executives, and tweets about it.
4.Emotional Intelligence. This skill requires the leaders ability to recognize, understand and harness their own feelings and the feelings of others, and be able to put that knowledge to good use. It’s basically recognizing that you need to have a filter between your brain and your mouth so you can manage the situation you are in.
Jacinda has been quite respectful and empathetic to people's fears of being sick and them getting other people sick as well. She has also shown empathy and compassion to the families of those that died. She keeps extreme emotions in check when she goes on tv, and uses first names of journalists when she calls them during her daily talks to keep that bond with them.
One of the Cabinet Ministers was caught breaching lockdown, and when she went on live tv, she still managed to keep her cool, but was very firm yet respectful in her expression of disappointment in him. When she was asked if she would fire the Minister for breaching the lockdown, her response was she will deal with it after this pandemic situation is finished and the result would be very different in a different time. She demoted him as of the moment.
5.Setting Goals and Standards. This is the ability of a leader to manage activities and projects using measurable goals, develop and understand the daily review of how the country is performing in terms of the goals she has set. This is also the ability to eliminate the barriers to the goal setting process, and be able to use the goal to motivate and rally the whole country to achieve the goal.
Jacinda has stated from the start “ Stay Home, Save Lives”. And that message is streamed on television over and over and over again. Saving lives was the clear goal. She needed to eliminate barriers to the goal so the government provided people with a bit of financial help so they can stay home a while without having to worry about their bills. It was not the perfect solution as there were still businesses hurting, but it was a good start.
6. Managing change and Visualising the future. This is the ability to think about the medium and long term future, and to find ways to paint and anticipate what that new future will look like. This is also about the ability to inspire people to what may happen in the future. For effective change management, the leader must be able to anticipate and plan for future change and manage oneself and others to handle it well. They ask the question “ how are they actively steering the process to both be positive and beneficial to everyone?
Her team, with her heading it, has effectively anticipated the situations they will encounter when they ordered lockdown. An example of one thing they immediately addressed when they announced the lockdown is finances. They knew people would be worried about their finances, so they gave businesses money equivalent to 12 weeks wages to help pay their staff during the lockdown. This allowed people to continue to be paid, although not 100%, enough to address their basic needs. The condition is that businesses keep their people employed for those 12 weeks . They have also been in conversation with banks, asking them to give people mortgage holidays and business loans which the banks have done so. Rent increase freeze was imposed on residential rents, and landlords are able to give discounts to their tenants due to the banks giving them mortgage holidays or interest only deals. Students were given a bit of help as well. People appreciate that not all their needs would be met, but as she has said, they will keep their eye on any changes that need to be made during these difficult times.
As it stands, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with the help of the Director General of Health, and the Finance Minister, have painted for the people what the medium term will look like. For the foreseeable future, borders will still be closed while a vaccine has not been found, testing and contact tracing will be kept up, local tourism will be revived to prop up the tourism sector, banks have removed the Loan to Value ratio to allow people to buy houses even with little deposit to prop up the economy, just to name a few. It might not be inspiring for everyone, but she has painted a good start of wanting the country to remain safe and start the economy moving again.
People who live extraordinary lives of inspiration and fulfilment have aligned their goals with their values, rather than seeking to live out the values of others. They focus on what is really important to them. Being aware of these values would allow them to mobilize all of their strength to make their goals come true. They make quick decisions that would help them fulfill their purpose in life. While not being aware of their values make it exponentially difficult to create a meaningful life. Your true value is what makes your very essence, an internal compass if you may, pointing you towards activities and people that will fulfill them. Your true value is the driving force of your perceptions, decisions, actions and feelings. Perhaps you value listening to beautiful music, or art or stylish clothes. So everything you do will point towards those things.
As we have seen from what Jacinda has done in the past, she values people and lives. When the Christchurch Mosque massacre happened a few years back, she went to ground zero and grieved with the people. Then right after that, the law banning high powered firearms was passed. If her values would have been different, she would have agonized over the firearms ban as it will upset the gun owners and the gun industry. She would have agonized over whether or not she would visit the scene since less than a hundred people were killed. She would probably agonize whether visiting ground zero would be a good way to spend her day as Prime Minister. But she did not have to agonize over these issues as she had her values locked in. It is all about the people. With this pandemic, her value of people and saving lives makes it easy for her to implement lockdown, close borders and find ways to keep the death toll low. If her primary value would have been different, she would agonize on whether or not a lockdown was necessary as it would kill the economy, and plunge it into recession. But in her heart, despite the knowledge of the difficulty of restarting the economy, she knew it can be done. Not so with bringing back the dead.
We constantly hear about how we should hire for character and train for skill. This is true when filling jobs or management roles, and also what makes a leader. Characters like kindness, honesty, patience, quiet persistence, humility are traits that have been overlooked in a leader in the past. However more and more, the world has awakened to understanding the need for these character traits in their leaders,and are demanding to see these traits from those running companies or nations. A person's beliefs dictate their thoughts, their thoughts dictate their words and actions, and a repetition of those words or actions become your character. Essentially, character is a fruit of your belief.
Jacinda’s character can be seen to be one of kindness and humility, patience and persistence, and honesty. It makes her a good human being, and a good leader.
Now you see , great leaders are not just women since these skills, values and characters can be developed by anyone motivated enough to have them. These skills are just the start. There are so much more you can add to your leadership tool belt. These women leaders on the news right now happen to be seen as great leaders because they have aligned all their skills, values and character to manage the pandemic and help save lives. Will they apply the similar skill sets, slightly different values and character to bring back their respective countries to economic recovery? Let us hope so.
You too can become a great leader by learning the basic skills above. Understanding what your values are and knowing whether they align with your job would help you perform better, as you will understand why you do what you do or not do. Looking at the mirror and knowing what your character traits are is a good exercise in awareness. Are you happy with what you see in the mirror? Would you DARE to sit with yourself in silence and see yourself for who you really are, warts and all?
Know which leadership skills you are great at, and which ones need a bit of improving. We are here to help. Contact us for a free 45 minute initial coaching consultation.