During times of crisis, there’s always a lesson-in-motion in leadership—a real-time case study, as we watch who steps up to support others, who steps in to the hard work, or who steps away from the challenge. I’ve been observing and learning from some dynamic women during the pandemic. If there is a silver lining to what is happening in the world right now, it’s that some people have really highlighted what leadership is (and isn’t). Let’s learn from and with them!
So what are those leadership moves?
- Find a way to get stuff done, and done well. San Francisco Mayor London Breed (the first African-American female mayor of San Fran) was one of the first leaders in the US to shut her city down, even before the California Governor. And it’s a tough world as a female politician—only about 7% of heads of state worldwide are female, with only 18% of governors in the US, and less than a quarter of mayors at 22%. Due to her decisive and strategic thinking, San Francisco is now reaping the benefits with slower Covid spread than other large cities. What can I say—women get stuff done, and get it done well.
- Stand beside people. Watching New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, you see this stand-beside-those-you-support mantra personified. Her messaging is warm—she makes New Zealanders feel comforted and taken care of. She hosts Facebook Lives from her home in sweatshirts, she empathizes with people across the country, and she is human—in one Facebook Live, she welcomed her toddler as he waddled on camera in front of the country. And did I mention that New Zealand’s handling of the Covid crisis is upheld as one of the best in the world?
- Be transparent and honest. No one is superman, superwoman, or superperson. It helps when those we look up to are transparent and let us in on the fact that their lives can be hard as well. I love following Pernille Ripp’s Twitter feed—as a famous author, teacher, and speaker, her life seems put together and on point. Not that it isn’t—but she is also honest about her struggles mommin’ and working from home. When we see that even our heroes are human, it helps us set a more reasonable bar for our own expectations.
- Vision and strategy matter! And don’t be afraid to employ a vision and strategy that is unlike that of others. Norweigian Prime Minister Erna Solberg did just that, offering a Covid press conference for kids in Norway during which she told them it was okay to be scared. But there are so many layers behind this strong leader—she is leading the charge with other countries to donate resources to support developing countries in Covid relief, and Norway’s handling of the crisis is also one to be admired.
- You don’t need to be front and center to lead. I’ve loved watching the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ (NBPTS) moves on this one, under the leadership of Peggy Brookins, NBCT and one heck of an amazing leadership team. They are supporting teachers who support other teachers, leading from the back. NBPTS is not on the podium and hogging the microphone, but silently supporting teachers from the back seat. And they have reached over 115K teachers since mid-March. That’s some leadership.
- See the humor in hard situations! I learned this one from one of my favorite middle school science teachers—my mom. She always had a way of looking at situations with humor and laughter, no matter how challenging (or inappropriate!). Humor helps us cope, it helps us connect, and it helps us gain control of difficult situations. I’m not stating that we should be laughing at the enormous loss of lives our world is coping with, but I am saying that we could all use a little more humor these days.
- Find something to ground you and make you smile. This one is a home-grown tip from your own redhead—me ! For me, it’s my shoes. I know, an external consumer product that shouldn’t matter. But for me, it’s about adding a little smile to my day. Whenever I’m coming out of a hard meeting or have a difficult task at hand, I have a little extra shoe confidence. I’ve worked from home for 3 years, 364/365 days out of the year, I’m the only one who sees these sparklers. But they remind me to put a smile on my face and do the same for all around me.
- Adapt, pivot, and support those who you serve. This one comes from the real heroes these days—teachers (of which, 77% are female). During the Covid crisis, so many leaders have emerged, and the ones I want to shine the spotlight on this week are our educators. With distance learning, teachers had to pause, reflect, and adapt to meet the mega-shift that happened in the education landscape. And they rose to the challenge, in a really bright and beautiful way.