Pursue What Matters
Episode 55: Female Leadership in the Crucible of Corona
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Hey there, are you still standing? Well, I sure hope so I want to share with you some really intriguing new findings about leading during the crucible of Corona, guess what we’re learning? Women do it better?
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:17
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So maybe this is a surprise to you, or maybe you’ve known this to be true for a long time. But there have been many intriguing and maybe even provocative, perhaps to some anyway, reports about female leaders throughout the world and how they are leading through this pandemic. And, you know, the reports are very interesting. But of course, you know, these reports aren’t necessarily new, there’s some very strong research indicating that women do indeed make more effective leaders. So there’s a really interesting study that is shared in the Harvard Business Review, talking about the characteristics of female leaders, and that these are the traits that are more consistent with more effective leadership. So today, let’s see what what these reports have to say and whether you agree with the assessment that these female leaders are doing a better job than their male counterparts, specifically, as it relates to this Corona pandemic. So first of all, we’re all facing such a crazy time, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. And of course, this is testing even the best leaders among us.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:09
So I’m not really interested in a blame game or gender wars. And I think unfortunately, in you know, when it comes to some of these conversations, it becomes a bit of a gender war. And I want to be really clear from the outset that I’m not really interested in that. But I do think it is helpful to look at it, it’s helpful to look at the contributions of women, because I think, for so many of us as women, we don’t see the gifts that we bring, and particularly we don’t see the gifts that we bring to leadership. And I think sometimes those we work with, don’t see the gifts that we bring to leadership. And that’s a problem because, you know, our, our organizations suffer, our country suffer, our communities suffer when we don’t acknowledge unrecognized those. So this isn’t about a blame game. It’s not about a gender war, but it is really about all of us, right? Men and women, everyone bringing our best gifts to bear when it comes to facing uncertain times facing a challenge or just doing our best work. And so that’s really what I’m interested in. But you know, if we think about countries leading through this pandemic, you know, countries who are doing really well, are disproportionately led by women. And this is despite the fact that they make up only 7% of heads of state. So that’s according to Forbes. So it’s, it is striking, it’s really striking.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:53
So we’re going to talk about that today. And I do think it can be helpful to look at whether there are unique factors that female leaders bring to the table that may uniquely qualify them for the challenges that we are facing now. And that’s like, I think that’s such an interesting question. And so join me, and let’s figure that out. Because I think there can be some really valuable lessons to learn and this isn’t to say, like, oh, men or women are better than men or anything like that. Like that’s just the I have no time for that. But the reality is that we’ve always lived in a world where the stories have been told by men that now we really have an opportunity more than ever before. We have an opportunity to make room for the experiences and the perspectives of of individuals who maybe didn’t have room at the table. Right maybe whose whose perspectives or voices weren’t heard before. Whether that’s individuals of color, whether that is women and, so if you only write, like, if you only hear a story told from one perspective, even when that perspective is well intentioned, the reality is that you fail to get a complete picture of reality. And so it’s really, really important that we can tell the whole story, and that we can look at the unique factors, in this case today, the unique factors, the unique strengths that women bring to leadership, and this global pandemic, is a really great opportunity to take a look at that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:50
So let’s better understand what is showing up when it comes to women, leading in the crucible of Corona, because, of course, none of us would, you know, ask for this, this experience this challenge, and yet it is an opportunity, there are lessons, and there are some really unique factors that we can see showing up in this situation. The other thing that I want to share is, you know, as we move into the second year of the podcast, you know, my goal is to help you pursue what matters. And I’m really committed to that. And, you know, one of the things that I see so often it especially for women is that they tend to struggle with the confidence to lead and so there can so often be this question of how do I develop the confidence to lead. And I think that there are so many factors that contribute to that. And sometimes it’s just learning to step up. But it’s also learning to develop, you know, clarity, curiosity. So this idea of self awareness, and an understanding of your skills, your gifts, and how you can best contribute those gifts to the world and to your work and to your family, to your community. And then, of course, the third one.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:18
So clarity is the first one. The second one is curiosity. And then the third one is community. And that includes both building a community of support, and then also learning to lead a community. And so, you know, I’ve spoken recently about really feeling strongly about helping you to pursue what matters. And so as we move forward with the podcast, you know, everything that I do on the podcast is really geared towards helping you develop the confidence to lead. And so with each podcast, I really want to help you build some confidence and in each of these three areas, so today, especially the podcast is, is focused on helping you with this curiosity piece. So this self awareness of Okay, what might be the unique factors that women leaders have, that may uniquely position them to lead? Well, and especially in challenging times. And so our theme for today’s podcast is really around curiosity, to lead. So leading with curiosity, so I just want to point that out. And, and hopefully that can help you as you develop the confidence to lead moving forward. So the question that I have for you is, why might women make better leaders, specifically during COVID? or challenging times?
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:52
Okay, so that’s the big question for us. So reason, number one, is that there has been a double standard for female leaders. And this has led them to develop leadership qualities that make them more effective in a crisis. Okay? So because women have often had to operate in a man’s world, right, they have, over time developed skills that have made them more effective in challenging times. So the reality of that is that they come women, women tend to be more emotionally intelligent. Women also tend to be more other directed. So they’re very collectivistic when it comes to leadership, so they’re very focused on the needs of the team. They’re very focused on what is going to be best for the organization or for the community, in their leadership, so they’re not very self focused. And this has been great In the research, right, so this is just this isn’t just my opinion, this is then established very well established in the research. And so right, like if we take a maternal holistic view of that they’re nurturers, but the way that that shows up in leadership research is that they’re emotionally intelligent, which is one of the hallmarks of effective leadership.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:22
And then they’re collectivistic. So there are other oriented, which makes them really, really great leaders. And so those are some of the very unique strengths of female leaders. But, but here is the other part of that. So this is the double standard. So many women because they have had to operate in a male dominated or just male dominated leadership context, right. So for many women, as they move up in leadership roles, there are just fewer women, they have had to develop more male associated leadership traits. And it’s just been a function of survival. So they’ve needed to develop these traits in order to thrive in leadership roles. And so what that has meant is that they have developed a larger arsenal of leadership traits. And so some of those other traits that they have developed are the traits that we sometimes consider traditional male qualities, such as being very decisive and being able to make very tough calls. So what we see is that one of the one of the ways that that has shown up in the time of COVID, is that you have these female leaders of some of these great countries like Germany, Ireland, I’m sorry, not Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, these, these women took decisive action very early, so they shut down their countries early on. So they took decisive action. But they also showed up with a lot of emotional intelligence, they showed up with a lot of care, and a lot of caring to their people. And so they didn’t show up as the tough guy. But they made tough decisions. And so they reached out with care and concern and reassurance to their people, while also making the difficult decisions that that have been required in this time. And so because female leaders have had to have had to adjust to a double standard, they are more skilled. And those skills really shine in the face of a crisis.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:47
And so that’s the first reason we can see that female leaders really do very well, in challenging times. And specifically during this COVID pandemic. The second reason that we see that leaders that female leaders have done really well in this global pandemic. And of course, we can apply this to smaller challenges. Hopefully, we’re not always facing the big challenge we are now is that female leaders seek input and they listen, okay, so they ask for feedback. And then they listen to that feedback. They’re not overconfident, but they also don’t lack confidence. Okay, so let’s, let’s dig into this one a little bit more. So what happens with men is that male leaders tend to actually be overconfident. And what happens is, this creates blind spots in their leadership. And so they may not seek feedback in the first place. Or they may seek feedback, but then they don’t actually listen to the feedback. And so one way of describing this type of leadership is the control and control and corrective action. And think about that in the face of a crisis. That is absolutely the tendency in the face of crisis, we as leaders really take the tendency of controlling, right like I am, I’m gonna strangle this into submission. And if you look at a lot of the male leaders in the world, that’s exactly the approach that they have taken. And so that control and corrective action approach is much less effective in the face of a challenge and it really, very often is born of overconfidence.
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:49
So in one study, the 71% of men reported that they thought they were smarter than the average American so 71% of men reported that they thought they were selling than the average American which, right like statistically is not possible, with only 50 57% of women saying the same. So there’s plenty of research to show that men are more likely to trust their own judgment and instincts when making decisions. Right. So we have we, you know, there’s that study, but there’s also plenty of other research that shows that men tend to be really overconfident. So you got to be careful about that. And so, you know, I always am talking about humility in in leadership, because overconfidence is dangerous, it’s really dangerous because you start making decisions that aren’t grounded in, you know, maybe it’s not grounded in research, or it’s not grounded in good feedback. And, and it can lead you down a bad path.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:55
So another study showed that men Express confidence in their ability to excel as leaders, even when they change sectors and their resume isn’t aligned with the new industry. So it doesn’t even matter if they move to a different industry. And like they, they’re kind of clueless in that new industry, that overconfidence kind of goes with them. And so when I think about that, like, I wouldn’t even call that overconfidence, I call that ego. And ego is really dangerous, it’ll take you down. But women, in contrast, are more likely to cultivate a diverse set of advisors, and a wide network to help them succeed. So it’s not that women lack confidence necessarily. So and especially women leaders, it’s not that they necessarily lack confidence, but they have some humility, and they cultivate a diverse set of advisors. So I like to think of it in terms of like, they know what they don’t know, right? So they’re willing to seek input, they’re willing to seek feedback and say, like, okay, you know, like, so, for example, on COVID, right, like, if it’s a leader of a country, they’re gonna listen to their public health experts, right. That’s why they have them. And they’re the right they’re going to seek that feedback. And they’re actually going to listen to it, rather than that control and corrective approach, because, of course, that can be disastrous.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:23
So again, I want to, I want to be clear from this research, it’s not that female leaders lack lack confidence, more than male leaders. But here’s what’s true. So they’re more willing to seek input, which is really good. I mean, that’s actually a hallmark of a really good leader. And this is, this is the other thing, and I think this is, this really speaks to the world we live in, and just the power dynamics at play. So female leaders are more likely to be blamed, if decisions are unpopular, or ineffective. And so women are going to be questioned. And second guess more frequently. If a decision doesn’t go well, whereas a man will not. And so this is what’s true, female leaders need more cover than men. Right. And so it’s not that they lack confidence. But they they need, right, they need to seek input. And they want to right, that’s more consistent with their leadership approach. But they also know that they need more cover than men. Because if things don’t go well, they will be called out, and they will be questioned. And a lot of times, they will be questioned, because they are female.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:51
Okay, and that I mean, there, there’s your double standard right there. And that really speaks to the very pervasive power dynamics that we see among men and women in leadership. And that is absolutely the world we live in. So the last thing that I’ll say about this, is that, that overconfidence is so incredibly dangerous, and the ability to know what you don’t know, and to listen to people with expert knowledge. Right, like, I mean, that’s clear that clearly serves us well. And if we think about female leaders in the time of COVID, clearly that’s serving them really well. I mean, female leaders are doing very well right now. And, and a big part of that, according to some of some of the analysis is because they’re actually willing to listen to the input of folks that they have gathered around them and it’s, it’s been effective for them.
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:59
Okay, and then What’s the third reason that female leaders are doing so well leading through COVID? So what we know from the research is that female leaders tend to be transformational leaders. So what does that mean? So let’s let’s help you understand what it means to be a transformational leader. So first of all, they provide expectations, and rewards. So I’m just going to outline some of these characteristics of transformational leaders. And then we’ll dig into some of the details. So first, they provide expectations and rewards, too, they provide clear purpose and vision. Three, they are decisive. And I would say just as decisive as decisive as men, I’ve already talked about that. And three, they are even more task oriented than men. And that’s a real misnomer, that is out there. People tend to think that men are much more task oriented and decisive than women. But female leaders actually tend to be even more task oriented than men. And I think that this speaks to that double standard that I talked about earlier that female leaders really effective female leaders tend to develop much more balanced skills as they develop in their leadership. So let’s, let’s, let’s dig into the details of transformational leaders. So women tend to tend to display two things during and after a crisis.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:28
So the first is that this idea of expectations and rewards, so they’re able to define roles, clarify expectations, and reward achievement targets, which can be really helpful, right, so they help their people understand what to expect in the face of uncertainty, which can be super helpful, right? Because when you’re in the middle of chaos, you need to look to someone for guidance. And then the second one, which is equally as important, is inspiration. So it’s offering that compelling vision of the future, and an optimistic implementation plan. So transformational leaders, and these female leaders in particular, give people something to look forward to, they inspire, they motivate, they have a compelling vision for their people. And of course, that is so important in the face of a crisis, because a lot of people feel very hopeless and feel very helpless. Of course, women are just as decisive as men, this, despite the stereotypes to the contrary. And they also score higher than men on that task orientation, and in solving problems in creative and flexible ways. So this ladies for you, I think, is really, really important. And this is what I mean, when I talk about curiosity and self awareness, as we help you develop confidence to lead, I think it’s easy to believe a lot of the stereotypes, and some of the messages whether you’ve learned those in school, whether you’ve learned those from bosses, you know, whether you’ve learned those in, you know, like church, school, parents, whatever, that Oh, girls aren’t good at this, or these soft skills aren’t valuable, you know, like, we really want to challenge the stereotypes and really dig in to the the details of these skills, because your skills are valuable. And and you have, I know you have more skills than you, then you give yourself credit for, in, you know, all of the conversations that I have with with women, I they just by and large, do not give themselves enough credit. And right, what what the research shows is that women really possess the qualities of transformational leaders. And so vision, inspiration, direction setting and out of the box thinking. And, of course, these skills are so essential. When we think about leading in crisis, of course, they’re essential all the time. But they really shine forth in the crucible of a crisis. And so we can see how female leaders really, really shine during these times because they have had to be better leaders in order to lead at at the level that they have. And that’s a double standard. It’s not right, but it’s the reality that we live in.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:47
Okay, what’s what’s the fourth reason that female leaders are leading so well in this current challenge? So female leaders are community focused tend to have higher emotional intelligence, right? We’ve already talked about that. But what we know is that women are, tend to be very empathic, compassionate, and supportive, right. And these are all high emotional intelligence skills, which, of course, are especially important during a crisis. Women tend to be very effective communicators, that’s borne out in the research. And so not only are they decisive, and they can take action, but they communicate. And they can communicate not only very effectively, but they can communicate their empathy. They can, they’re very emotionally literate. And so when they are communicating on TV, or when they are communicating in a press conference, or in the public square, not that anyone’s really there watching them, they their care, and their concern, and their compassion comes through. And these are the leaders that you want to follow. And, you know, there are some really great examples of that. So the leader of Norway did that with the children of Norway in some beautiful ways. We had Angela Merkel of Germany did that, you know, very persuasively, she just, she’s a straight talker. And she, she spoke very directly to her people, and is a great example of that straight talk. And she was very decisive. Whereas, you know, men are more individual oriented, competitive, and there’s less concern for that collective well being. And then, of course, men take that more traditional command and control approach. It’s more transactional and task focused. And so we’ve already talked about all of that. And then let’s, let’s think about a fifth reason why why female leaders may be thriving in their leadership with the current pandemic. And of course, with all of these, these are applicable to other challenges as well. But female leaders manage risk very differently from male leaders. And this one, I just think is so fascinating.
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:19
Okay, so the fifth reason female leaders tend to do very well in challenging circumstances is that they, they manage risk very differently from male leaders. And so women are less likely to take risks during a crisis than men. So they women in general hold higher risks, as do other groups with less power, right? So right, whenever you whenever there’s a power differential, the group with less power has higher risks. Right? So if you’re a man, right like this, we think about like traditional white, now, you have more power, which means you’re in a position where you can take greater risks, okay, and that’s really just the world that we live in. So if we think about a female leader, she has less power, which means that she has more, she holds higher risks. And so that, in general is going to make her more risk averse, okay, she’s going to be less likely to take risks. We also add to that more collectivistic approach in her leadership, and other focus, and so she’s really going to be paying attention to the needs of others around her.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:51
Whereas if we think about a male approach, where it’s a little more individual focus, right, like that individual might might say, like, Oh, Gosh, I kind of have a stomach for risk. But the female leader may say, like, I can’t take this risk for all of these people, because I’ve got to think about them. And I’ve got to think about their well being. And so some of the ways that we saw that show up with COVID is that female leaders were shutting down their communities earlier than male leaders. Whether you agree with that or not, it did save lives. And so that’s one of the ways that that has shown up. We saw that in 2008. With the financial crisis, of course, that was in male dominated industry, huge risks, huge era bear responsibilities. You know, there could be an argument made that there were that the fact that that was a mountain, you know, male dominated industries, male dominated leadership. There were really irresponsible risks that lead to the downfall of the economy. Related to that. So right, if we look at the 2008 financial crisis, you know, we had male dominated workplaces, that really valued the individual achievement and competition rather than that collective well being that we often see with female leaders. And, you know, women tend to adopt a more relational approach to leadership, which obviously, tends to be more effective in a crisis. And then, you know, we’ve already talked about that traditional command and control style of leadership, that can be kind of disastrous when it comes to crisis situations.
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:47
So there’s also a sixth reason that women tend to tend to be more effective leaders in the face of crisis. And that is because they’ve had to be. Now we’ve talked a little bit about this with the double standard. But another another aspect of this that I want to talk about, and I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but we, you know, we we’ve talked about, you know, or you’ve probably heard about the glass ceiling. But have you heard about the glass cliff, versus the glass cushion. So I want to talk about that. So the glass cliff is this idea is that women are put forward for fewer leadership positions and roles, you know, and that’s just right. That’s the world we live in is the power differential, there are so many factors that play there. But women tend to be put forward for fewer leadership positions. And then the roles that they are given tend to be riskier. And this is the phenomenon known as the glass cliff, right. And so this is where we see that double standard at play.
Dr. Melissa Smith 31:56
So women in leadership roles need to be really, really good. So they need to develop a lot of strong skills. So they tend to be really, really good leaders, they also need to cover themselves more, because they’re going to be called into question more, and they’re in riskier positions. And so one of the key reasons for this is that the risky roles are often considered a good fit for women, even though the chances of failure are higher, right in there, like all sorts of stereotype typical reasons for this. But the underlying assumption is that women can manage difficult situations, because they know how to assume the caretaker role, and manage a lack of social support, which, that makes me crazy. So in other words, women are used to not being set up for success and having to make the best of it. So because women have less access to leadership opportunities, these risky leadership roles are hard to turn down. And so women get they get fewer leadership opportunities, the roles that they’re given tend to be riskier, they have less support. But basically kind of the, the idea is, well, women will, you know, it’s a harder role, but they’re kind of used to not having much social support, so they should be fine. And the woman is in a position of, you know, feeling like she can’t really turn down this opportunity, because there aren’t very many opportunities like this, and talk about a double edged sword. And so this is what is known as that glass, Cliff.
Dr. Melissa Smith 33:40
Gosh, talk about rough that is, makes me crazy. And so that, so that’s one of the reasons that women tend to be highly effective in, in challenging circumstances, because they’ve had to be because if you’re, if you are climbing along the glass cliff, think about all the skills that you’ve had to develop along the way, versus the glass cushion, which is often the case for many men, and not all, but but for many men. So for many men, there are better leadership opportunities. And because men make up most of the leadership positions in organizations, they’ve had access to a wide range of informal and these are predominantly male, the informal networks, mentors and sponsors who support them. And this social support protects men from riskier positions, and it provides men with access to leadership opportunities with a higher chance of success. Right so while women leaders may be highly effective during a crisis, workplaces shouldn’t wait until they are failing to invite women to lead. So while women are put on this glass cliff of really risky roles, with high likelihood of failure, where they really have to hustle to develop the skills required. Men have a glass cushion where they’re protected, where they’re given roles where there’s a higher likelihood of success. And it’s just, it makes things really, really n equal. And there’s a lot of inequity there. But right like in the crucible of crisis, what do we see that female leaders become incredibly effective? Because they have the skills, they have the skills, where many of the men do not have the skills? So what do we what do we learn from all of these reasons? Right? So what are these leaders teaching us in the crucible of Corona, right? Like, what can we learn from all of this? And I really, I want to be clear, like, it’s not that women do everything better, that we don’t need men like I really like I like men. They’re great. They’re awesome. And we all want to be working together. But I do think there can be some very helpful take homes for us.
Dr. Melissa Smith 36:14
So some of these lessons that the lessons include from some of these great female leaders. What they are teaching us include first truth, we need to be straight talkers with our people. So from I mentioned, Angela Merkel, her straight talk with her people was awesome. So she went up very early and calmly and told her people, that it was a serious bug that would infect up to 70% of the population. So this is what she said, It’s serious. take it seriously. And she did. And so her people did as well. And so speak truth to your people. The second lesson that we can learn from these great female leaders is decisiveness. Be willing to take action, your people need you to lead, they need you to make a decision in the face of uncertainty. That is the I think that is one of your most important jobs as a leader, and the great female leaders gave us a great example of that. So we have the wonderful leader from Taiwan, who introduced 124 measures, to block the spread, without having to resort to the lockdowns that have become common elsewhere. And her response has been called among the world’s best response. And they, you know, at the at the time of one report, had only reported six deaths. So she really took decisive action. And then third is tack, right? So embrace tech, be willing to learn and be willing to pivot as needed. So the leader of Iceland, really embrace tech, and use that in a really powerful way to inform the citizenry of the impact of COVID and to communicate with her population. And that was really very powerful, and helpful. And so I, I kind of think of this one is like, embrace the future and be willing to learn and grow. And then the fifth lesson that we can learn from these great female leaders is love. Right? And it doesn’t have to be soft and squishy, like love is actually like the most important thing that we have here. But don’t be afraid to have compassion and empathy. For those you lead. It is the most powerful thing that you can have. People need to know that you care. And so Norway’s Prime Minister, Prime Minister, she, I love this, she took to a press conference with with her country’s children, and she basically like kicked the parents out, but she wanted to talk directly to her country’s children and no adults were allowed. And she responded to the kids questions from across the country, and took time to explain why it was okay to feel scared. And it was really, it was really beautiful because she spoke directly to their fears. And she was absolutely human with them. And that’s what they needed. And it was like such an incredible example of compassion and love And so I just think, Wow, like we have some really awesome examples to us during this time.
Dr. Melissa Smith 40:09
So there you go, I have let’s see, I have six reasons, female leaders lead so well in the face of challenges and lessons that we can learn. So my hope for you is that you can get curious about the skills and the traits that you have and that you can begin cultivating your gifts or you can continue cultivating your gifts because we need your gifts The world needs, your gifts, and that you can follow some of the examples of some of these great female leaders and that you can contribute your best gifts because we need your gifts because you are meant to lead. So make sure you head on over to my website to check out the show notes of all the great resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-55 one more time www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-55 I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai