Doyenne member Sophia Rossi discusses the role of compassion in leadership with reference to the success of the female leaders during the pandemic.
During the COVID-19 pandemic female leaders have been praised for their success in handling the virus over their male counterparts yet why was this? What traits did they portray that lead them to successfully maintaining the virus?
Aviva Wittenberg-Cox - CEO of 20-first , a global gender-balance consultancy based in the UK - points out that countries with the strongest initial response to the outbreak were led by women. This is supported by an analysis of 194 countries that revealed that infection and fatality rates in the first 3 months of the pandemic were generally lower in countries with female leaders.
Wittenberg-Cox identified that good leaders, both men and women, shared trust, decisiveness and reliance on tech as attributes that armed them against the pandemic. However, she also noted that traits that set the female leaders apart from the men was compassion and love.
She points that successful leaders made information clear and included the public in their plans. For example, Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister held coronavirus instructional events for children to help ease their fears showing compassion and care for individuals who weren't even old enough to vote for her. She notes here that leading with love and compassion is a lot more effective than leading with fear and power as people have an intrinsic motivation to follow you.
She also highlights the authenticity of people that lead with compassion, referring to New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Arden who hosted a Live Facebook informal Q&A in her tracksuits explaining that 'It can be messy business putting toddlers to bed'. Even though the pandemic was significantly difficult for some more than others she shared a personal experience here that connected her to her people, humanising her and breaking down authoritarian boundaries. A result of this was that the NZ Prime Minister had the support of her people who adhered to her rules which lead to 0 new cases in 100 days. Arden also released that her and her cabinet would be taking a 20% pay cut to help alleviate those in financial difficulty. An act of pure compassion and devotion to her country.
Other female leaders such as Finnbogadottir (Iceland), Frederiksen (Denmak), Merkel (Germany), Tsai Ing-wen (Taiwan) were successful because they incorporate empathy and compassion, preparedness and an ability to collaborate and listen before making policy decisions. Most importantly, they said, these women leaders know how to inspire their populations to make the necessary sacrifices to control COVID-19 outbreaks. The Washington Post pointed out that these leaders were successful for 'reasoning rather than rousing' with their people.
Leaders that act with compassion reflect the practices of a 'Transformational Leader', a concept developed by Bass (1996). A transformational leader is described as someone who collaborates with their followers and inspires them to make the right choices rather than forcing them to. This style of leadership has consistently been proven to succeed leaders who use power and fear. It seems to me that the reason Transformational Leadership is so successful is because it treats followers as what they are: Humans. Humans with motivations that are driven by emotions, emotions which demand trust, respect and compassion.
The success of the female leaders during the pandemic leads us to believe that there is room for compassion, love and understanding in leadership. This doesn't mean smothering our employees/subordinates in empty hearted compliments or checking up on their wellness at an hourly rate but through authentic care which is shown through taking time to understand and relate to their problems whilst encouraging them to grow through sparking a motivation within themselves to do well which will encourage them to make the right choices because they believe and trust in you and your organisational goals.
It intrigues me that for so long I have thought to be a good leader I need to be more like a man and cut out emotion to show a strong face. However, it seems that these leaders have benefitted from relying on their natural womanly instincts of love and compassion.
Thoughts from our founders, Alice and Sam:
"As a business owner and leader it's difficult to know if you're making the right decisions, there are so many to make every day. Leading with compassion and love definitely sits at my core values and are there times I question if this is the right way, am I too soft, am I leaving myself in a vulnerable position by doing so, do I need to take a harder approach...the list goes on!
In the business world a harder approach does get praised at times and seen as a strength but for me everything is about compassion, including my own happiness. I believe that what makes a business successful is staying authentic to yourself and respecting everyone's core values within that business, as well as your customers."
"I felt that I was really aware of the role of compassion and love in leadership during the pandemic. For example, it was harder to read the emotional cues of my team when we weren't in the same room and therefore, check-ins were crucial—and not just about work progress. I found that taking the time to ask them how they were in their personal lives as well as work made all the difference. During this time I saw that employee expectations completely shifted. Employees expected to feel the emotional support they needed from their managers and this meant that we had to show up in a way that we never have before and start leading with compassion.
I now believe that if an employee doesn't feel recognised by their employer then it would only be a matter of time before they left which is why I now take more time to be more compassionate and understanding towards my employees while maintaining a firm grip on what is fair for them, the business and me. "
We would love to know your thoughts on leadership. Do you agree that compassion goes a long way? Or do you think that in theory it is a nice idea but in reality there are more demanding pressures that need a harder approach?