After the article she wrote for the International Leadership Association last week, we caught up with Amanda Ellis to get some perspective on the different ways leaders around the world were dealing with COVID-19, more specifically women. Amanda grew up in New Zealand and also spent many years in Australia & Geneva before settling in USA where she is Executive Director, Global Partnerships for the ASU Global Futures Laboratory.
While she has worked with heads of governments around the world in her time with the World Bank and United Nations, she has spent much of her life leading women's empowerment. She is a founding member of Financial Alliance for Women and the recipient of the TIAW Lifetime Achievement Award for services to women's economic empowerment.
From her childhood in New Zealand, with a mother who was actively involved in leadership roles in women’s organizations like Zonta International, Amanda's life work has centred around the positive difference that the empowerment of women and girls makes to communities, countries and the planet.
It is a statistical fact that women are better crisis leaders and peacemakers, even as not enough of them are involved in the process. Right now with global headlines full of frightening stories of the terrible strain on medical personnel and hospitals, the lack of COVID-19 testing kits, burgeoning conspiracy theories and finger-pointing, women like Jacinta Ardern and their brand of leadership - a compassionate face that is all about building bridges in times of crisis are so important. Amanda points out:JACINDA BECAME AN INTERNATIONAL FIGURE IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE SHOOTING THAT KILLED OVER 50 PEOPLE DURING PRAYER TIME IN A CHRISTCHURCH MOSQUE. SHE FAMOUSLY DECLARED "THEY ARE US," REFUSING TO ALLOW DIVISION ON THE BASIS OF RELIGION THAT MIGHT SO READILY HAVE BEEN EXPLOITED BY ANOTHER KIND OF LEADER. Images of Jacinda wearing a headscarf, clearly grief-stricken herself, and comforting those whose loved ones had been murdered, flashed across the international media. Her communication was very clear: while she both called for and exemplified compassion and kindness, she was clear that cooperation was expected as she swung into action to bring NZ legislators together to change gun laws (in just six days). These same leadership traits are in evidence in her management of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Jacinda Ardern is one of a few leaders rewriting the leadership playbook for the 21st century. Instead of exploiting division as a political strategy, she focuses on building bridges, leading a cooperative approach with kindness and compassion. Rather than wielding her positional power, she communicates in a direct and very down to earth manner on social media, eschewing the kind of sensationalism that other male leaders have embraced. IN DIRECT CONTRAST TO THOSE WHO HAVE MISLED THEIR CITIZENS WITH THEIR OWN PERSONAL PERSPECTIVES, JACINDA HAS GONE TO GREAT LENGTHS TO HELP CITIZENS - INCLUDING CHILDREN - UNDERSTAND THE SCIENCE OF COVID-19. She exhibits genuine compassion and kindness one New Zealand friend described as “making all of us feel we’re on the same team, that we need to cooperate no matter what our political views”. Her leadership paradigm stands in direct contrast to the worrying rise in authoritarian leadership styles we see so many male leaders exemplify today.
Jacinda Arden is not only one of the youngest people to lead a country, she is also among only 7 percent of women country leaders globally. (Worth noting that others in that tiny cohort - leaders from Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Taiwan for example - are also remarkable for similar approaches to managing Covid-19). MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT GENDER DIFFERENCES IN THE LEADERSHIP LITERATURE. RESEARCH PUBLISHED IN HBR POINTS OUT WOMEN SCORE “AT A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER LEVEL THAN MEN” IN MOST LEADERSHIP SKILLS, INCLUDING INITIATIVE, RESILIENCE AND DRIVE FOR RESULTS. YET WOMEN HAVE NOT BEEN WIDELY PERCEIVED AS SUITABLE FOR LEADERSHIP ROLES.There are very few women in senior leadership roles in the private sector, too: there are around 6% of women at the top of corporate enterprises. Shockingly, a third of companies globally still have no women at all on their boards. In a time of COVID-19, when the global pandemic is throwing into stark relief the realities of our interconnected world (and one might argue this is just a fire drill for climate change but that is for another reflection!) - it is time indeed to change both traditional leadership paradigms and practice.TO ECHO JACINDA’S WORDS DURING A NATIONAL BROADCAST ON COVID-19, “PLEASE BE STRONG. BE KIND AND UNITE AGAINST COVID-19”. (Amanda Ellis is Executive Director Hawaii & Asia-Pacific - ASU Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability)