Economic reset buttons will soon be pressed. When they do, there will be thousands of opportunities for women leaders to showcase their strengths. Businesses will be hobbled by months of low or no sales. Millions will return to work. Until the medical pieces are in place to manage and prevent COVID-19, some will have anxiety about social distancing, touching contaminated surfaces, and using public transportation. Service industries will struggle to reassure clients that their shops are COVID-19 free. Thousands of businesses will need to be turned around.
Turning around businesses requires leaders that are ready and able to tackle new and unique challenges. European Central Bank President, Christine Lagarde urges women to see crisis situations as opportunities whereas men often shun them "because they fear failure." Skilled, aspiring women should raise their hands because chances for women to demonstrate they belong in the executive suite don't come every day. This is an assignment where gender bias takes a back seat. The harsh judgments female leaders characteristically face will be temporarily suspended, allowing women to showcase that they lead differently, and many of these differences are very effective in a business crisis.
Turnarounds involve restoring financial health by motivating employees, driving sales, managing budgets, and inspiring innovation. Restoring financial health is an area where women leaders tend to fare well. Perhaps after years of making less money than men, women have been forced to become budgeters and are now better at finding cost-effective ways to get things done.
When it comes to the top line, this is an opportunity where women's reputation for caring about the greater good can kick in. Right now, the greater good means keeping everyone employed. Sales must be kickstarted. Women leaders have always faced more scrutiny, and this has encouraged habits that minimize mistakes, like being mindful of important details, for example, scheduling marketing campaigns that resonate, monitoring goals for sales and marketing, and switching gears when something's not working. Most importantly, motivating employees and getting teams to rally around a cause, like restoring healthy financials. Women leaders generally do all of this better than their male counterparts.
Management is a people's game, and women leaders have a reputation as people persons. Men are typically inclined to be impersonal. Men manage, women lead. Employees will have endured a very scary period. Freedoms taken for granted were annihilated. Some fear the lingering spread of the virus and a repeat of shelter-in-place. Leading an anxious workforce requires many behaviors that are more common to women leaders, like empathy, organization, thinking in terms of we not I, flexibility, receptivity to new ideas, and inclusivity.
Adequately managing employee anxiety about safety now includes clean workspaces and transportation. Tackling this is best served by leaders open to ideas from everyone. Some, like flexible work arrangements that permit distancing and addressing fears of public transportation, will increase the organizational challenges for leading productively. Women leaders are generally more organized. Some attribute this to years of organizing children, home, work, and in general having more responsibilities to manage in terms of work-life balance. Origins notwithstanding, being organized will pay dividends managing the complexities of a combined physical and virtual workforce.
Muslim-Americans experienced increased discrimination after 9/11, and, as unfortunate as this may be, the same is now anticipated for Asian-Americans. But turnarounds require all hands on deck. Women leaders have a better reputation for building inclusive, collaborative teams. Diverse teams that are inclusively led deliver superior outcomes.
Empathy, organization, we not I, flexibility, receptivity, and inclusivity are great qualities for motivating teams — especially now. Motivational leaders drive productivity more than the command and control leadership style common to male leaders. Fear is not the great motivator. Increasing productivity is essential to the turnaround, and female leaders have an abundance of inherent strengths to be great motivational leaders, especially in times of high anxiety.
Employees will also crave a leader that offers solid directions that restores purpose to their lives and encourages a belief that their employment will be secure. Confinement will amplify the desire to be part of a team. Women leaders tend to be better at collaboratively digging in and objectively evaluating data to build plans with believable goals, and then managing team execution until the end. These behaviors contrast with typically independent-oriented male leaders that have a habit of dismissing data that conflicts with their views. The completion of strategic plans will be key to making a company respond well post-pandemic.
Turning companies around requires innovation, and the economic restart after COVID-19 can require tons. For many, what constitutes a successful business will change. The Tylenol murders in 1980 inspired a sea of change in innovative packaging. COVID-19 is inspiring something similar for the packaging and delivery of products and services. It is also generating opportunities to develop innovative solutions to replace products manufactured overseas that are now seen as critical to national security. Studies have shown that women leaders tend to be better at inspiring creativity and innovation. Why? Perhaps unselfish tendencies to give credit where it's due and to think creatively when managing limited resources.
COVID-19 is creating thousands of opportunities for aspirational women to step up to the plate. Skilled women need to raise their hands, because nothing could be more important for the greater good than participating in the success of this economic reset. As a bonus, we can find more women promoted "permanently" into senior leadership. Ladies, let's seize the moment.
WRITTEN BYKathleen Brush