By Joanne Huskey and Kimberly Weichel
The world is reeling out of control. With the many crises we are facing simultaneously, who, we all ask, can lead us out of this time of crisis? What kind of leader do we need when a crisis hits?
The world feels out of kilter. We are suffering from disease and anxiety on a global scale. We have seen a disturbing rise in autocracy. There seems to be too much testosterone running the world. We are facing an unprecedented worldwide health pandemic and people globally are struggling economically, socially, and emotionally. On top of this, racial violence continues to rear its ugly head, but this time, people have had enough. They are demonstrating in the streets around the world for change.
One solution to the tumult, we believe, is to increase the amount of female leadership in our nation and in the world. In the first place, it is beyond time we had equity balance. We have long had a dearth of women leaders and the world seems to lack the very values that women embody. Historically women, because they bear the children, have cared not only about their own children but the whole village. It is not an accident that women have traditionally been in jobs that address the health, environment, human rights, and education of our communities. That holistic approach to problem solving is desperately needed today. It is a question of balance. While we have benefited from some enlightened male leadership, we desperately need decisive female voices and minds.
If we look at those who have guided us through some of the recent days of racial, health, and economic anguish, many of the greatest success stories have stemmed from women leaders. Somehow, women, who tend to think of the wider community, seem to get it.
In America, there is Muriel Bowser, the Mayor of Washington, DC, who asked her police force to show respect and restraint with the Black Lives Matter demonstrators in that city’s streets. In solidarity with their cause, she had “Black Lives Matter” painted in huge letters down 16th Street, which ends at the gates of the White House. There is Keisha Lance Bottoms, the Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, who as a mother of a black son empathized with the messages of the demonstrators, called on people to unite peacefully, and vote for change. There is Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House who has been a leader in Congress for decades, calling for legislation that eases the economic hardships faced by hard working Americans during this time of health crisis and surging unemployment.
We know that good political leadership is key for the wellbeing of any country, but, particularly so in a time of crisis. We need leaders who can bring on effective, skilled advisors to assist them in making the best decisions on behalf of the whole society. During a crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen examples of excellent national leadership by a number of female presidents who reacted swiftly and reduced the spread of the virus, enabling them to open up their national economies much more quickly. Conversely, we have seen poor leadership by some male leaders, who ignore the advice of medical professionals and make unilateral decisions that put their states and nations in danger.
If we look internationally, it is evident that female values-led leadership has been notably more successful during this crisis. The prime example of how to respond belongs to Jacinda Ardern, the 39-year-old prime minister of New Zealand, who connected with her citizens through empathetic Facebook Live addresses and reacted quickly to lock down the country early on, which prevented the virus from spreading. On March 21, when New Zealand still had only 52 confirmed cases, Ms. Ahern informed citizens about the guidelines that the government would follow in ramping up its response. Her message was clear: “These decisions will place the most significant restrictions on New Zealanders’ movements in modern history. But it is our best chance to slow the virus and to save lives.” And it was compassionate: “Please be strong, be kind and unite against Covid-19.” By early June, New Zealand was declared free of the virus.
There were other examples of countries where swift and decisive action helped allay the impact of the virus and unite the nation, including South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Greece and Iceland. Women, a minority among the world leaders, stood out as among the most effective and reassuring of leaders. They exhibited a combination of compassion, empathy and rigor, relying on science-based information and putting expertise over ego.
Tsai Ingwen, the President of Taiwan, has ably led her nation through the Coronavirus pandemic by enlisting all citizens in a national cooperative effort to control the pandemic. President Tsai responded quickly at the first sign of the new danger, keeping the virus under control and enabling her to send millions of face masks to the United States and Europe. Inspired by her leadership, the people of Taiwan fully cooperated and held the incidence of infection to under 500 with only 7 deaths.
Similarly, Chancellor Angela Merkel boldly led Germany to confront and staunch the coronavirus epidemic there, quickly getting testing underway. In Iceland, Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir led the government in offering free coronavirus testing for all and organizing a thorough tracking system. And Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon and her government provided helpful, nuanced strategy documents.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, Finland’s 34 year old Prime Minister Sanna Marin, and Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg are other women who have earned praise at home and abroad for their handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Ms. Solberg, for example, held a press conference for children, reassuring them and telling them it was okay to feel scared. These leaders have demonstrated that women take out their tool kit and lead with a sensitivity to the impact on all stakeholders in their society. With this kind of leadership, people feel included in the effort and are willing to collaborate and unite.
The leaders who have gained the respect and attention of their people, and who have succeeded in dulling the impact of the disease, share certain traits and approaches to leadership valuable for this pandemic, and for future crises that will inevitably come. A willingness to take quick and bold action, even when it carries political risk, is surely among the most important hallmarks of leadership in a crisis. It is now obvious that China’s politically motivated efforts to conceal the outbreak of Covid 19 in Wuhan and President Trump’s actions to downplay it for far too long, proved disastrous. Ms. Ardern, by contrast, chose, as she put it, to “go hard and go early.”
In recent history, we have seen other examples of women’s leadership in difficult times. The women of Rwanda, who suffered endless rape during the horrendous ethnic war, and bore children with HIV, are the very people who put their nation back together again despite the odds. Rwandan women led reconciliation efforts and healing. They turned their nation around and now 61% of their national parliamentarians are women. With the future of children and the whole society in mind, they have reversed decades of hatred and fear and united their nation to move forward toward a brighter future.
In America, the Black Lives Matter movement was started by women -- Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors. Today, in cities all over the world, people by the thousands have streamed into the streets to shout “enough of the abusive police violence against people of color, enough of the autocratic harsh way of policing.” People in cities all over the world are literally crying out for compassion, empathy, justice, and human rights.
Are empathy, inclusivity, and compassion important leadership skills? In times of crisis they demonstrably are. Citizens want to be reassured and know that their leaders care about them and are taking decisive action. People skills are an asset in a functional democracy where winning votes matters; they are even more so during a crisis. Leaders have to win the trust of their people. They have to inspire a sense of loyalty, and a cohesion of purpose. Certainly, some male leaders show these qualities. For example, former President Obama, who often works in a collaborative fashion and has publicly exhibited empathy, was able to enlist the hearts and minds of Americans in striving for a better society. For him, it wasn’t yes I can, but yes, we can. For this more compassionate leadership style, he has earned the support of some, yet reaped criticism from others more used to a forceful male dominant leadership.
Other elements of effective leadership include a respect for science, transparent messaging, constant updating of valid evidence. In Ireland, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s background as a doctor prompted him to start giving phone consultations half a day each week; and this open approach helped boost his previously flagging standing. Ms. Merkel’s background as a scientist is, by all accounts, a major factor in her credibility during the pandemic.
How does this compare with the approach of some strong male leaders?. As Helen Lewis wrote in The Atlantic: “Strongmen prosper as leaders because they promise certainty in uncertain times. They offer a simple enemy and present themselves as the only champion against it. The more control they have—by delegitimizing opposition leaders and the press—the better this strategy works. A country that elects a strongman, however,—or where a strongman can hold on to power once elections become a sham—is an already troubled country.”
In particular, Lewis cited some specific examples: “China’s Xi Jinping discovered this problem early in the outbreak, and tried to suppress doctors’ concerns about the new disease emerging in Wuhan. Leaders in Iran, Mexico, and the Philippines all appear to be desperately downplaying the extent of infections. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the coronavirus as “a little flu or a bit of a cold” and attended an anti-lockdown protest in April.” President Trump downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic and waited a long time before taking action, stating, “No problem, we have this under control.” He has also been a proponent of early opening up, despite medical advice that it could be unsafe to do so. As a consequence of this bravado, our nation and these countries have seen surges of coronavirus cases and deaths. One can’t help but wonder where we would be if Hillary Clinton had been the American President now.
Women bring valuable skill sets to leadership that are usually seen as feminine qualities. These include collaboration, partnership, inclusiveness, longer-term thinking, intuitiveness in decision making, nurturing, and compassion— qualities that are vital for the health and well-being of individuals and societies. Women often have a heightened perception of what is occurring before it becomes visible. Perhaps this is genetically programmed into our DNA. This sensitivity helps us understand what is underneath tension or conflict, so that it can be healed and transformed, not just temporarily solved while continuing to fester. This is one reason women are considered good peace builders and why they need to be an equal part of all peace negotiations. Women are often the ones working at the grassroots and thus familiar with the local people and issues. Women know what it means to give life, to preserve life, and sustain life.
These times call for transformational leadership. Women have for centuries strived to protect the health and well being of our societies. Feminine wisdom comes from a centered, holistic and collaborative perspective that values partnership. Feminine leadership, in its true sense, is inclusive, generous, and communicative. In today’s complex, nonlinear world we are urgently in need of these qualities. We need women in equal numbers in legislatures, governments, corporate boards, higher education institutions, scientific laboratories, engineering hubs, tech labs, and a myriad of other places in order to right the direction of the human community. A critical balance of female and male minds and hearts is desperately needed to meet the crises of our time head on. In this 100th anniversary of American women getting the right to vote, women’s leadership is called for on a global scale.
Joanne Grady Huskey and Kimberly Weichel are cross cultural trainers, women’s leadership specialists and citizen diplomats who have worked on the forefront of building bridges between cultures and peoples for over 25 years.
We are reeling in this nation from a lack of cohesive leadership. In a time when we desperately need clear directions on how to live as a society, Americans are confused about whether to stay at home or venture out; whether to open their businesses or keep them closed; whether they should wear a mask or not; whether to get tested for Coronavirus or not. Messages on these issues are convoluted by competing political agendas. We don’t know who to trust or where to get valid information. While we need our city, county, state, and national leaders to help us wade through this morass of illness and despair, trust in government has deeply eroded. We don’t know which of the competing messages to listen to. Our country is hopelessly divided, growing increasingly polarized racially, economically, politically, and philosophically. American values, we formerly held so dear, are blurred by anger, frustration, fear, and depression. In this vacuum, where we do not feel safe, we see a dangerous rise in anarchy. We are crying out for honest, clear, strong leadership. We look for heroes everywhere, who can lead us out of this crisis, leaders who will save us from impending doom. And if we cannot find them, we will set out, somewhat haphazardly, to right this ship ourselves, each of us in our own way.
Successful examples of cohesion have appeared in other nations, where exceptional leaders, an impressive number of whom are women, lead with clarity, compassion, and empathy for their citizens. People in these nations trust their leaders and follow their guidance -- Taiwan, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Germany, South Korea and even China have been united in a sincere concern for the whole of their nations; and citizens have shown a willingness to sacrifice for the common good. Today, this seems to be lacking in the very divided (United) States.
What kind of leadership do we crave? We long for integrity, honesty, clarity, wisdom and compassion. We seek leaders who connect with us on a human level, and who know how to collaborate with others to seek the best common solutions to the many societal issues we face. We seek leaders we can trust, who have our best interest at heart, and not that of competing political and economic interests. Without this leadership in America, we fail.
Additionally, in this globally connected society, we cannot proclaim, “America First.” In light of the Covid 19 pandemic, we can already see that what happens in China, India, Kenya, Mexico, or the UK eventually affects us, too. For years, the US has been a leader guiding international thought in almost every field. We cannot step away from the table and refuse to collaborate in international organizations. The US is needed to help find solutions to global health, climate change, trade, research and development, nuclear non-proliferation, gender equity, business, constructive technology, or any number of global issues. We know, through experience, that what happens in Kabul will eventually have ripple effects here.The world needs the US to play a pivotal role in our societal evolution. We cannot do this as a divided, leaderless nation. We cannot contribute to this planet without our values intact. What will it take for the US people to unite and find leaders who embody the qualities we need-- humility, integrity, knowledge, and respect for all people. Right now, we are all in this crisis together. There is a human outcry to unite and help each other. If we do not do it now, when our people are dying, then when will we act like a “United” States?
We still can do this, but, we all need to vote and elect leaders with integrity who can guide us forward. Request your ballot today and vote by mail. Vote as if your life depended on it! Because it does.
Like everyone else, I am turned upside down by this pandemic, this time of lock down, isolation, fear and anxiety. These are uncharted territories we are traveling together. Yet, it amazes me to realize that less than two months ago, I was out speaking to groups around Naples about the importance of citizen diplomacy and women in politics. As a cross-cultural coach and public speaker, my message has always been that we need to reach out to people of different cultures. We need to learn from and about others, meet them face to face, open ourselves to new ideas, take the best from every culture and grow in understanding. By thinking and acting globally, we evolve and become better human beings. I believe this is how we will survive. My life motto has always been “people to people”.
But now, with this raging virus, we have all retreated inside and closed our doors, parks, and public spaces. To keep well, we are careful not to touch each other or gather in groups. We have shut down our borders, built walls, and are pulling out of trade agreements. International trade and commerce is slowing to a stop. We are pulling inward in our homes, our communities, and our nations. To protect our health, we cut off from outside human contact. For now, it is necessary to slow the spread of this deadly disease. It seems that social isolation is slowly working and we all should heed the advice of the epidemiologists, if we want to stop this virus.
Yet, we simply cannot stay cut off. In our isolation, we open virtual online windows. Increasingly, as we stay safe, people on every continent are connecting like never before on Zoom, Facetime, Gotomeeting, Skype, and others. We are reaching out to people with whom we haven’t spoken in years -- getting together for virtual happy hours, birthday parties, board meetings, office conferences, online classes, neighborhood sings, group discussions, international concerts, art shows, and book groups, as well as local and international business meetings. We are talking across state and national borders. We are communing, because, that is what humans do best. We are by nature collaborators. Together, the world is Zooming.
What will this time of isolation do to us as humans? Closing borders, cutting off from international organizations, cutting off from our allies, criticizing each other will never get us out of this. Rather, we cannot, we must not, put our heads in the sand. We must not retreat into exclusivism and nationalism, after we transit this deadly virus. We, now, can see very plainly that everything is global. Communication is global. Health is global. Trade is global. Our supply chains are utterly global. Climate change is global. The economy is global. Scientific research is global. Immigration concerns are global. The list goes on.
Right now, despite the present administration in the US, states are reaching across borders and working together to share ideas and solutions to this global pandemic. EU nations are starting to collaborate on containing the virus. Nations like Taiwan, Korea, and China are shipping their PPE to other nations. Scientists in many nations are madly working to find a vaccine for Covid 19. We must learn the best from each other. A global problem can only be solved by global solutions. Can we begin to learn from this moment? Moving forward, before another global crisis again hits, we must actively participate in those international networks that address issues we see coming at us -- climate change, immigration, global health, terrorism, economic instability. We must not disengage from the WHO, the Paris Accord, UN agencies, IMF or the World Bank. The United States should be a decisive leader, sharing the best knowledge we have, in these agencies and actively work to build up their capacities to respond to future challenges that we know will inevitably come.
Pointing the finger to blame others and criticizing other nations does not help, but rather hinders our common response to these challenges. Toughing it alone is nonsensical. It is time to put our minds together to solve the huge issues facing us on this planet. In times of international crisis we desperately need leaders who are empathetic and who can collaborate and work collectively to find solutions, taking the best ideas from each nation and applying them to our mutual societal good. Yes, for now we need to do that virtually, but nevertheless, we must think and act collaboratively at the local level, state level, and the national and international level.
This is no time to pull out, close your eyes, divide into camps. and hope you can survive alone. No, to survive this and other international crises that will most definitely come, you gotta be in the Zoom where it happens.
I had a great conversation today with Tim Love of the Discovering Truth podcast. There couldn't be a more timely topic in these crazy times! Have a listen..
Our Values Matter
By Joanne Grady Huskey and Kimberly Weichel
We’ve entered an unprecedented era of dis-ease and turmoil. As much as we might feel like putting our heads in the sand, pulling the covers over our heads, stop reading the news, discontinue watching cable TV,, or even leaving the country, we, Americans, have to remember our values and the importance of acting on them. There is an urgent call today for active citizenship and a renewed look at the very values we hold dear.
We Americans, whether red or blue, believe that men and women are created equal and that freedom of speech is sacrosanct. We know that truth matters. We believe in freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, and a government that cares about, represents, and protects all of us. We believe no one is above the law, and we all have an equal right to succeed in our individual pursuit of happiness. We hold these truths to be self evident... yet, lately, they are not.
The truth is we all have far more in common than we have differences. We all, whether Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, want safety, security, meaningful livelihood that supports us, a good education for ourselves and our family, and a secure home. We love our country and want the freedom and opportunity to pursue our dreams and interests. When talking with others, we need to remember that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. Polarization hurts all of us.
Yet, at this time, there is an onslaught of backward policies that exclude rather than include, roll back much needed environmental legislation, undermine women’s reproductive rights, and curtail immigration key to this country. We need to remind ourselves and our neighbors that the values which we may have taken for granted are being eroded. This is not who we are or what we stand for.
It is time to vote, speak up, and take action. We see voting and civic engagement as an important way to express our values through action for the good of the whole. We call this spiritual activism, which is about showing up in the world as agents for change. We show up as our whole, spiritual selves, when we call our senators and representatives, when we march, when we protest, when we volunteer, when we donate, when we organize, when we listen, when we post on social media. Disengagement is a passing of the torch to others to take responsibility for our future. We all have a stake in our country’s future.
Times like these require us to stand up, confront key issues head-on, and speak out on behalf of the marginalized. As citizens who care, we need to participate actively in the collective process. We work for justice and equality while holding politicians accountable for their actions. The vote is the guarantee of our liberty.
So we are now at a crossroads, one in which the foundations of our democracy are being eroded. We need to speak our truth. We need to share our hard-won wisdom. And we need to act and we need to vote!
Never feel powerless to make the world a better place. It’s not only our own fate riding on the outcome, since what happens in America affects the world.
If we re-examine our Declaration of Independence we see our forefathers rejected the British for “taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.” They rejected the British rule for “suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.”
Unless we wake up, lead by example and act on the values we all have in common, our nation is in jeopardy. We cannot let this happen to us, personally, or as a nation.
As Abraham Lincoln said years ago. “a government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Our values matter! Cherish them, live them and do everything you can to preserve them.
Women fought for you to have the vote. Prize it!
Joanne Grady Huskey is an author, speaker and coach. She is Co-Founder and Vice President of iLive2Lead Young Women's Leadership Summit, Co-Founder of Global Adjustments (India); and of the American International School of Chennai (India).