Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja was recently interviewed by the BBC for her skilful handling of COVID-19 in her state. Perhaps her previous experience of handling the Nipah crisis came in handy here, but there’s more to Shailaja’s leadership in face of a global crisis than an advantage of experience. She has displayed a rare mix of clarity, foresight, rigidity and compassion that not many leaders have managed to, which has been crucial to Kerala’s entire approach towards the pandemic.
Plan, execute, pay attention to feedback, remodel your tactics, execute. Repeat. Where have we seen that before? Oh yes, in our own households, neighbourhoods and society.
The 63-year-old is one of the handful of leaders who are in news for showing exemplary leadership qualities in the face of a disaster; most of whom happen to be women. There is no global leader whose popularity can match that of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern right now, whose focus is not just on containing the spread of COVID-19, but on preserving the country’s economy and keeping the morale of the citizens high. Then there’s Finnish PM Sanna Marin, who happens to be the world’s youngest leader at 35, whose decision to impose an early lockdown means that Finland has seen 306 deaths from COVID-19 so far, and the seasoned Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany who has joined forces with French president Emmanuel Macron to propose a 500 billion euro fund for EU nations struggling to tackle the pandemic, thus showing that good leadership knows no borders.
What is common among these leaders, apart from their gender? The sheer grit and calm that they have displayed in the face of adversity that no one was prepared for. They paid attention to early reports emerging from China, they acted fast, they planned ahead and they constantly stayed connected with the people to not just keep them in the loop, but to also understand the difficulties that their planning had failed to take into account. Plan, execute, pay attention to feedback, remodel your tactics, execute. Repeat.
Where have we seen that before? Oh yes, in our own households, neighbourhoods and society. For ages, women have been acing multitasking, remaining unfazed by all the challenges that life throws at them. Patriarchy at home, bias at work, difficult motherhood, limited support system. Bring it on, when have these things scared us, that they will today. I think it reflects in the way women have reacted to the pandemic as well, they have just rolled up their sleeves and gone to work instead of fussing over the situation.
What is common among these leaders, apart from their gender? The sheer grit and calm that they have displayed in face of adversity that no one was prepared for.
One of my colleagues, an editor and a budding writer is caring for her aged mum and mum-in-law, while doing all the household chores, and yet somehow finding time to take care of her freelance work. My mother has been cleaning the entire house, washing utensils, cooking, dusting and sweeping her courtyard everyday on her own, with no help from my arthritic father. Till a few days ago she was also taking online classes for her students. And oh, she gets up at six everyday, to start her day with a 45-minute workout.
I am not taking away the credit from any men who have been helping out at home with chores, but honestly tell me, outside of what we see on social media, how many men are helping with household chores on an equal footing during this crisis or multitasking on the level that women have been doing for generations? Is this what makes these women leaders better at their jobs in a tough situation? Or perhaps women have always been multi-taskers with a temperament of a surgeon when dealing with a sticky situation, and it is now that the world has taken notice of our superpower.
- Women leaders across the globe are in news for their skilful handling of COVID-19 crisis.
- What’s common among these leaders, apart from their gender? The foresight, grit and composure that they have shown in face of adversity.
- But isn’t that something that comes naturally to women?
- Doesn’t multitasking and resilience times of crisis come to us as our second nature?
- Women are tuned to lead better when the going gets tough, it’s just now that the world seems to have taken note of it.
While this pandemic will mould our lifestyle in the longer run, perhaps it will be the force that can finally break the stigma that surrounds leadership and associates it strongly with one gender. Women have proved what they can do, not with words, but with concrete actions, that will be a part of written history. But is the influence strong enough to challenge the way we vote, or perceive women are leaders? We’ll have to wait and see.
The views expressed are the author’s own.