As the corona virus swept through the world, media highlighted women heads of government whose leadership saved thousands of lives. I read these articles searching for themes in the behaviors they were lauding. When I found these themes – reliance on science and technology, swift decision-making, calm truth-telling, showing empathy — they spelled S.M.A.R.T. — Strategic. Moral. Achievable. Resilient. Transformative.
I created the concept of S.M.A.R.T. because experience taught me that the traditional “hard” and “soft” power alternatives to address transnational and human security problems did not work in many cases. I use it now as a prism through which to highlight effective leadership behaviors during a global pandemic.
S – Strategic
All the women relied on science as a basis for their decisions. They asked questions that disrupted traditional thinking. They listened.
With hard information, they turned to quarantine, testing and contact-tracing as primary means to control the spread.
These leaders acted early, decisively, and clearly.
Prime Minister Jacobs of Sint Maarten instructed “Simply. Stop. Moving.”
Technology and social media became key tools to inform, innovate and interact.
M – Moral
As they implemented strict measures, these heads of government regularly acknowledged the pain sheltering in place was causing, particularly for children.
Prime Minister Ardern of New Zealand designated the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny essential workers to ease the hardship on them.
Norway’s Prime Minister Solberg held press conferences for children only.
Empathy, a characteristic of good leadership at any time, appeared time after time as a key reason for their success in influencing others to take difficult measures.
A – Achievable
Every nation these women govern shows lower rates of illness and death than other countries comparable in size. Clearly their strategies worked.
Citizens were told the truth. “Our idea of normality, of public life, social togetherness—all of this is being put to the test as never before,” warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Their governments provided the necessary resources, medical support, and motivation.
The president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, who reacted in January with swift measures to halt the spread without using lockdowns, is sending 10 million face masks to the U.S. and Europe.
Prime Minister Jakobsdottir of Iceland has ensured testing is available to all citizens.
Citizens of these countries have been able to question and voice concerns through social media and multiple news conferences.
New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern noted recently: “We have the opportunity to do something no other country has achieved: elimination of the virus. But it will continue to need a team of 5 million behind it.”
R – Resilient
The effects of COVID-19 on the world’s health and economies will play out over the next months and years to come. Meanwhile, these women leaders are addressing the issue head-on.
Finland’s Premier, Sanna Marin, is using Twitter in a campaign to keep up morale during the lockdown, enlisting the help of an array of organizations working with children and mental health.
President Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan wrote in Time on April 29, “Taiwan is no stranger to hardship, and our resilience stems from our willingness to unite to surmount even the toughest obstacles. This, above all else, is what I hope Taiwan can share with the world: the human capacity to overcome challenges together is limitless. Taiwan can help.”
On April 19, Prime Minister Jacobs ended a talk to the people of Sint Maarten about COVID-19 with this, “I will continue to say in every address and every opportunity I get to address you, that we have faith. Faith beats fear any day of the week. We have faith, that we will get out of this stronger than ever before, because we are resilient. We are St. Maarten strong! When we are done, we will be an example for the rest of the Caribbean and the world to know how to deal with a real tragedy and how to get stronger as a result.”
“Together we can do this. Each and every one of us. These regulations are not put in place to test your faith or to push you to your limits. It is a matter of protecting your life and to get our livelihood safe, so that we can continue and return to proper economic development so that we can all thrive. …Help us to help you.”
T – Transformative
The media attention on women leaders and their accomplishments is in and of itself a change in my world.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported on June 13, 2020 that female-led countries lost only one-fifth as many people as male-led countries.
If a style of leadership that puts people first becomes the model for the future, we really will have changed.
- When was the last time you saw empathy demonstrated effectively? What results did it bring?
- What other leadership behaviors during this pandemic have made a positive difference in your world?
- What are you doing to make a positive difference?
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