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  • Randal Tame

COVID'S 12 LESSONS FOR LEADERSHIP Women do it better


Over the last 4 months Nik Steffens, Sarah Bentley and Alex Haslam of the University of Queensland and Stephen Reicher of St Andrews University conducted a major review of leadership during COVID19. The review was built around the 5R model of identity leadership. The resulting article was accepted today for publication in Social Issues & Policy Review.

A preprint can be accessed here: https://psyarxiv.com/bhj49/ .


Here's what they found:*


1. POWER THROUGH NOT OVER PEOPLE

Leaders who managed the crisis effectively focused on achieving power through followers by working alongside, rather than over them. Leaders who relied on power and authority alienated people and cast them as opponents rather than allies, dampening enthusiasm and fueling resistance.


2. GROUPS ARE THE SOLUTION NOT THE PROBLEM

Leaders who were most effective focused on the mobilization of group-based power by reinforcing a sense of "us" and that we ae all in this together. As journalist Jill Herron said of how Kiwis in Otago responded to the challenges of COVID-19, “it takes a village to beat a virus”.


3. UNLOCK PEOPLE’S CAPACITY FOR STRENGTH

Leaders who recognised that people can be resilient but need to understand what they are being asked to do tend to encourage adherence with their policies. Leaders are less effective if they perceive people to be weak and rely on coercion, nudging, or punishment to drive adherence to their policies.


4. FOCUS ON BUILDING SHARED IDENTITY

The leaders who successfully secured adherence to policies did so by by building, and drawing on, a sense of shared social identity (a sense of ‘us-ness’). The sense that “we're all in this together” is critical to a leaders’ appeals to the public and to their success.


5. TREAT PEOPLE RESPECTFULLY

Leaders are more effective when they treat group members respectfully, fairly and as equal partners. As Stephen Reicher writes, leaders that "give the impression there’s one rule for them and one rule for us,... fatally undermine that sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ and... undermine adherence to the forms of behaviour which have got us through this crisis


6. BE BROADLY INCLUSIVE

Leaders encourage broad support for their policies if they advance a broad and inclusive definition of their group and secure less uniform support if they advance a narrow and exclusive definition of the group. As Mark Dybul the Co-Director of Center for Global Health Practice and Impact at Georgetown University observed “It’s very difficult for the international system to respond when we’re still all in our corners, and we’re in our corners because no one’s leading” (cited in Igou, 2020).


7. APPRECIATE PEOPLE’S DIFFERING NEEDS AND CIRCUMSTANCES

Leaders will be more effective if they implement policies that are sensitive to the differing circumstances of different group members. Leaders who ignore disadvantaged and marginalised members of their groups will fail to secure the broad support that they need for their policies to be effective.


8. BE EMPATHIC NOT PUNITIVE

Leaders are more effective if their policies are seen to be informed by empathy with others and their plight. Leaders whose strategy centres on punishing transgressors generally fail to inspire the majority to engage in necessary acts of citizenship. When enforcement is necessary in a crisis it is effective if it is seen as an expression of community consensus rather than an independent assertion of authority (Stott & Rabburn, 2020).


9. PROVIDE ONGOING SUPPORT TO THOSE WHO NEED IT

Leaders maintain support through the ongoing distribution of resources to those who most need them and become less effective if they withdraw support from ingroup members or if the support they give undermines a sense of shared social identity.


10. ACHIEVE OUTCOMES THAT PEOPLE MOST VALUE

Leaders are more effective and seen as more charismatic if they are associated with the

achievement of outcomes that are highly valued by those they lead. Obvious, but counters the claim that in a crisis people just need charismatic leaders. Against this, the researchers note, charisma is something people "bestow" on leaders if they achieve results. If they don’t, their charisma ebbs.


11. PREPARE GROUPS MATERIALLY AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY FOR A CRISIS

Leaders are more effective if they have done the groundwork to prepare their group materially and psychologically for a crisis. Leaders whose leadership has been built on the fomentation of social division encountered particular difficulties when seeking to mobilise communities in a crisis. Countries with crisis management plans in place responded more quickly and more effectively to the initial coronavirus threat. This was identified as a key factor of the success of countries like Germany, Iceland, South Korea and Taiwan in keeping the virus under control (Hsleh & Child, 2020; Farr & Gao, 2020; McLaughlin, 2020; Rubin, 2020; Wang, 2020).


12. DEVELOP IDENTITY LEADERSHIP RATHER THAN LEADER IDENTITY

Leaders are more effective when they are attuned, through practice, to the needs of the group they lead. Leaders who are in thrall to ‘masculine’ models of leadership that place an emphasis on being seen as a strong leader are prone to failure. The researchers argue that too much of the leadership literature focuses leaders on the need to be seen as a leader. They need to focus instead on working for their groups. Women tend to be better at this. In the most rigorous study to date, Sergent and Stajkovic noted that female state governors in the US did a better job at keeping COVID-19 cases and fatalities lower than male leaders. In line with Lesson 8, they also reported qualitative findings which suggest that this was partly because women governors were more empathic. Woman tend to be less in thrall to toxic ‘masculine’ models of leadership that prioritise having a leader identity (e.g., as decisive, strong, and agentic) over the need to do identity leadership.


*This article quotes directly from the paper "Identity leadership in a crisis:A 5R framework for learning from responses to COVID-19" by S. Alexander Haslam, Niklas K. Steffens, Stephen D. Reicher & Sarah V. Bentley and from a Tweet by @alexanderhaslam accessed 1/12/20

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