Will Covid Wipe Out the Macho Leadership Culture?

By Melissa Jackson

If there’s one thing we’ve learned during the Covid pandemic, it’s that some of the best leadership skills – in the face of a crisis – have been demonstrated by women. It feels like the time is right to shed the macho leadership style that has dominated politics and the boardroom and look to a future where empathy and co-operation prevail. [continue reading]

Let’s take the most extreme example of macho leadership – Donald Trump – the man who consistently and bullishly holds such inflated self-belief that he selectively ignores the opinions of others, believing his “superior” judgement is beyond reproach. Predictably, he’s rejected the advice of medical professionals and unsurprisingly, the US currently has the world’s highest death-rate from Covid-19.

Then there’s Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly trivialised Covid-19, describing it as a “little flu” that did not warrant “hysteria” and claimed that his country would be protected from the virus by its climate and youthful population. Brazil is currently second in the league table of global Coronavirus deaths and – in an almost retaliatory act of irony – the virus has infected Bolsonaro.

The countries with some of the lowest Covid mortality figures are led by women, including New Zealand, Norway, Germany and Taiwan. Both New Zealand and Norway’s leaders have exhibited leadership styles that have been described as “empathetic” and “collaborative”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour recently, the esteemed British musician Brian Eno, said, the countries that have come out of Coronavirus “well”  have “spent more time listening to their scientists than to their ideologues” and that “macho posturing has proved to be worse than useless” in the face of the pandemic.

I hear that over-worked conundrum, “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?” ringing in my ears.

Joining in the Woman’s Hour debate and commenting on the highly-competent and distinguished female leaders, Chair of Time’s Up UK (see link below) Dame Heather Rabbatts said, “We always used to say you can’t show your feelings as a leader. Here they are showing their feelings; at the same time, being incredibly decisive, basing their judgements on evidence, being collaborative and listening.

“I think what we’re seeing now is a formidable sense of ‘this is what constitutes leadership’.

“It isn’t the shouting; it isn’t the vilification of others or the demonising of others. It is absolutely about this sense of humanity, aligned with clear leadership.”

Dame Inga Beale, former CEO of Lloyds of London, told the programme that she was often criticised for not being more autocratic, a behaviour that is allied with a male leadership style.

Dame Heather said the female political leaders have demonstrated collaboration, building alliances, listening and humility.

These are skills that could usefully transfer to the boardroom and the corporate hierarchy.

For years, there have been suggestions that women’s leadership styles might be different and beneficial. But too often, political organisations and companies have focused on persuading women to behave more like men if they want to lead or succeed. However, the female heads of state, operating in a Covid world, are a case study of the leadership traits men may want to learn from women.

It’s time they were adopted across the board and the macho tactics eradicated. Let’s seize the moment and see something positive emerge from this crisis to shape the leaders of today and tomorrow.

For more articles related to this, click on the links below.

Leaders  (Guardian)


Leadership Lessons Men Can Learn From Women (HBR)

Time’s Up UK

Celebrating the Birthday of the ‘First Lady’ of Nursing

By Melissa Jackson

We have become accustomed to applauding the heroes and heroines of this pandemic – the doctors and nurses – who selflessly put their lives on the line on a daily basis treating Covid-19 patients in UK hospitals. But let’s not forget the woman who’s credited with being the founder of modern nursing, on the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Florence Nightingale was a formidable woman, by all accounts, a single-minded and determined individual, who was not going to let Victorian convention prevent her from having a career and vocation, the like of which was usually reserved for men in the 19th century.

She was born into a privileged family, on 12th May 1820, into a world where the only “career” for women of her status and position was to marry well and bear children. Working was for women of a lower class!

But Florence was intelligent, educated and a non-conformist – a perfect storm for advancement. I’m not wholly advocating that children should disobey their parents, but maybe question the assumption that they always know best. This young rebel defied her parents’ wishes, turned down an eminently suitable marriage proposal and enrolled at a nursing school in Germany because there was no hospital or school that trained nurses in Britain.

We are still reaping the benefits of her spirited nature today. She changed the practices of nursing and hospital hygiene forever. Her most notable achievements were during the Crimean War (1853-56), where, during the course of her work attending to wounded servicemen, she observed that the number of troops dying from disease (in British military hospitals) outstripped those succumbing to battle wounds. She suggested that improvements in sanitation and hygiene would save many lives.

However, her well-intentioned “intervention” was originally rejected by the male-dominated military officers and doctors, who refused to execute her proposed reforms.

But Florence was way ahead of her time and used her contacts in “the media” (AKA The London Times) to expose the perilous conditions in military hospitals. After a barrage of (bad) publicity, the army relented and gave Florence the task of improving sanitation in its hospitals and organising the soldiers’ care. The mortality rate in army hospitals was slashed from 60% in November 1854, (when she first arrived at Constantinople), to 2.2% in the spring of 1855.

When the war ended in 1856, Florence returned to Britain and continued to press the army to improve the quality of its medical care. Her efforts resulted in the creation of Britain’s Army Medical College. She then turned her attention to improving sanitary conditions in civilian hospitals.

In 1859 she wrote a book, Notes on Nursing, which was the first text book written specifically for the training of nurses and was published in various languages. In 1860, she opened the Nightingale School for Nurses (at St Thomas’s Hospital in London), whose mission was to train nurses to work in hospitals and to care for the poor.

Her achievements meant that nursing became increasingly professional and the role of nurses was valued more highly in hospitals.

Florence was also an advocate for women’s rights. In her 1860 book, Suggestions for Thought to Searchers After Religious Truths, she argued strongly for the removal of restrictions that prevented women from having careers. By 1901 there were 68,000 trained nurses in Britain – in 1850 there had not been any.

She carried on with her mission to improve hospital hygiene and nursing practice into her later years. In 1883- Florence was awarded the “Royal Red Cross” for her work and, in 1907, became the first woman to be awarded the “Order Of Merit”.

She died in 1910, but her memory lives on and her work and status is honoured every year on International Nurses Day, which is always close to her birthday. The event celebrates the contribution that nurses make to societies around the world and this year as a fitting tribute to the First Lady of Nursing, it is being held on 12th May, to mark her bicentenary.