That’s what research published in HBR found. The researchers reviewed a global database of 360-degree assessments to analyze patterns in how male and female leaders have reacted and responded to the COVID-19 crisis. A 360-degree assessment is a review approach that integrates feedback from an employee’s direct reports, peers and supervisors, as well as a self-evaluation. It’s intended to give a holistic overview of a leader’s performance while eliminating reporting biases.
The analysis focused on March to June 2020, one of the most disruptive periods of the pandemic. We were all learning as we went, rapidly adjusting to stay-at-home-orders and remote work. The analysis found that women were rated significantly higher than men on a number of key competencies, including “inspires and motivates,” “communicates powerfully,” “relationship building, and “collaboration/teamwork.” As the researchers point out, these are key interpersonal skills that historically are more often displayed by women than men. These traits are why the HBR researchers concluded women have been extremely effective leaders during the pandemic.
Leading Through a Crisis
Over the last year, I’ve thought a lot about what it takes to be an effective leader through a sustained crisis, like the pandemic. I come from a military background and am a self-described “hyper-achiever.” From an early age, I’ve been a self-reliant problem solver, projecting strength.
I also care deeply about my team and how I can best support their needs. Previously, this meant carefully following professional boundaries: private life was personal, and I focused on supporting my team’s professional growth. This past year, however, our personal and professional lives melted into one. I’ve grown as a leader, finding new ways to blend strength with vulnerability and empathy. Here’s what’s worked for me:
Being honest with my team. In the workplace, women are often afraid to be honest about the challenges they’re facing. We tell our boss and coworkers everything is great, even when we’re struggling. We don’t want to be perceived as complainers, overly emotional, or suggest we cannot complete work. This was certainly my approach for many years, but the pandemic forced me to rethink.
I want my team to feel comfortable coming to me with any challenges they were facing – professional and personal – and this starts with me setting the example. As parents of a five-year-old without any immediate family nearby, my husband and I had to juggle full-time childcare while working from home. It was a sudden shift and huge challenge, and it took time for us to recalibrate our routine and focus. I knew my team was experiencing similar challenges, so talking openly about mine created a safe space for others to do the same and support one another through this period.
Create space for connection.
From video calls at our dining room table to pet cameos, our personal lives are on display like never before. But this can also be misleading: we feel like we’re “seeing” our coworkers, but we don’t actually see the challenges they’re facing behind the scenes. We don’t know the personal details on a coworker that’s caring for a child, juggling remote school schedules, or trying to coordinate care for a loved one.
In addition to being honest with my team about how I’m doing, I’m also checking in on team members. I like to ask, “What can I do to support you?” Pre-pandemic, many of us would default to pleasantries or brush off this question. Today, this question is essential to combating feelings of isolation and being overwhelmed. So many of us are experiencing similar challenges. As a manager, I want to help my team do their very best every day– and that starts by understanding what they need to succeed.
Build your support team. As my colleague Ann Reiling recently shared, women are more likely to thrive when they have strong mentor relationships, and 2 in 3 women say mentorships have been essential to their career growth. Mentors are an important piece of a support team that may also include a close friend, career coach or therapist. When we’re all navigating uncharted territory, like the last year, there’s no single person who will have all the answers. A diverse support team will bring fresh perspectives to the challenges you’re facing.
Take care of yourself. “Self-care” became a huge buzzword this past year, and for a good reason. Finding a few minutes each day for yourself isn’t easy, and it’s why I’ve been challenging my team (and myself) to build it into our daily schedules. For me, this means getting up at 5am to squeeze in a quick workout before my daughter wakes up. It means taking a short walk each day to ensure I get outside with fresh air and calling a friend to check in on them. It’s putting my phone down at night and reading a book instead. It’s peppering in small moments of joy into an otherwise stressful day. As these changes to my daily routine became habits, I found it easier to show up the best I could each day for my team and my family.
How has this last year impacted your leadership style? I invite you to share your experiences in the comments below.