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The virtues of effective crisis leadership: what managers can learn from how women heads of state led in the first wave of COVID-19

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 06:28 authored by Wilson, S, Tobias NewsteadTobias Newstead

For billions of people around the world, life as we knew it came to an abrupt halt in March 2020. Aiming to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, over 100 countries around the globe instigated lockdowns while others imposed severe and unprecedented restrictions. Normally busy streets suddenly fell quiet. In many places the eerie silence was broken only by the sound of ambulances ferrying the sick to overwhelmed hospitals, or by people singing from their balconies or standing at their front door to applaud health care workers. Never before have so many people been simultaneously gripped by fear and uncertainty.

Around the world, government leaders struggled to slow the virus's spread. Yet by April 2020 it was becoming clear that some countries were faring far better than others in dealing with the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic: on a per capita basis, both cases and deaths varied greatly by nation. And as this trend continued, more and more news stories reported a common feature amongst the otherwise diverse nations that were doing the best at containing COVID-19: they were led by women.

Intrigued by this, we began a systematic investigation into what women heads of state were doing that might be contributing to their relative success. Accepting that many factors influence a country's COVID-19 results, the way heads of state communicate with citizens is clearly important - and therefore worthy of careful analysis. To this end, we examined how women heads of state drew on and deployed virtues in their communication to citizens through the first wave of COVID-19. Given virtues are human qualities - not gender-specific ones - our aim was to distil lessons of relevance to all managers leading through crisis, regardless of gender. Of course, we hope that showcasing examples of good leadership by women will help reduce gender-based barriers to women's advancement. But, our focus here is on the virtues we found underpinning their leadership and the lessons arising from that for all managers leading through crisis.


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Organizational Dynamics



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Elsevier Science Inc

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