The world is changing – far faster than any of us could have imagined, and in so many different ways – and now more than ever we need effective leadership to bring us together, and to forge our way into a “new normal” that works for us all, in business, politics, and in societies around the world.
Traditionally a “leader” is epitomised as an alpha male type, making rousing speeches and calling people to action, making ruthless decisions to succeed when he needs to, and being surrounded by the trappings of that success. But as the last hundred years or so have passed, it has become clear that these are not the leaders who inspire teamwork, loyalty, and shared achievement. Communication, motivation and empathy are the key ingredients for any effective leader – and it’s interesting to note that these qualities appear to come naturally for many women in leadership positions, as opposed to many of their traditional male counterparts.
Here are some traits of good leadership that appear to occur more frequently in women than in men – and that yield significant results in some of the most difficult times.
Hearts and Minds
It’s the polarised carrot vs stick approach. When it comes time to change, is it best to explain the reasons to people and bring them on the journey, or to give them no other option but to conform? Many women tend to favour the hearts and minds approach over the rank and file one. It doesn’t guarantee an easy change process, but it’s far more likely to result in an organisation that adapts and recovers more quickly from that change.
Empathy, not dictatorship
One of the most remarkable of our world leaders is Jacinda Ardern, of New Zealand. In her term of office, she’s dealt with a volcanic eruption, an unprecedented terrorist attack, and a global pandemic situation – all while holding a baby. Insiders and commentators have stated that her empathy for those around her, and the individuals in the country she leads, is one of her defining qualities. She appears able to put herself in the situation of those she’s addressing, and her communications have consistently carried messages that contain proactive advice, coupled with clear and shining understanding for how events are likely to be affecting her listeners. During the COVID-19 lockdown, she’s announced the new rules – such as the ban on using playgrounds – with clear empathy for how hard this will be for parents and children, but coupled with the fact that the virus can live on metal surfaces for 72 hours. She understands people’s feelings, she’s on her people’s side – but she has to make these decisions, and here’s why. It’s an even more sophisticated evolution of the Hearts and Minds approach.
One of the greatest things you can do for your team’s commitment and motivation is to offer them the opportunity to develop. Training them to be as good or better than you is something that can be daunting for some leaders, but the predisposition to coach and mentor others seems to come naturally to many women in leadership roles.
Knowing your limitations
It’s vital to acknowledge that while you’ve got what it takes to lead a team, you don’t have to know everything that your team knows. Investing in experts who know what they’re talking about, and placing your trust in them to apply their expertise, and tell you what you need to know to make decisions, is a mature and evolved leadership model to follow. Getting expertise from experts allows you to analyse all of the information you know, and apply your own knowledge and experience to make the tough decisions that are needed in a crisis.
This strange time we’re living in has given us many interesting headlines and stories, as leaders around the world have reacted in different ways to the crisis in their respective countries. One of the most interesting to me has been the difference in strategy for countries with a woman at the helm – and how this may demonstrate that the leadership qualities they possess have been the most effective in coming up with successful strategies to combat this crisis.
It’s important to note that these qualities are not only to be found in women leaders. The most effective male leaders, with the most loyal teams, display these qualities too. But it is interesting to acknowledge that they often come more naturally to women than men, and make more sense to women as a way to do business. Now more than ever, we need to foster, prize and champion these qualities in our leaders now, and those of the future.