Women leaders can make a difference in a man's world

It is no coincidence that it took two women to demonstrate that a nurturing quality is an effective tool for governance in India. Let's not forget New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who led her country out of the national tragedy of the Christchurch shootings.



By Shalini Verma (Different Strokes)

Published: Mon 12 Aug 2019, 8:42 PM

Last updated: Mon 12 Aug 2019, 10:44 PM

Two political stalwarts in India, both women, died a few weeks apart. Both had a long illustrious political career in which they played to their strength. Sheila Dikshit and Sushma Swaraj.
Sheila Dikshit is credited with transforming Delhi on several levels. In her toughest period, when her administration faced corruption charges and a new formidable opponent, her traditional political opponents found it hard to directly attack her because they respected her so much. When she was gone, all they remembered was the warmth she brought to her leadership style.
The tributes offered to her after her death were not your usual official statements but had personal anecdotes of her kindness. Yet her leadership style that had an equal measure of head and heart ensured that she became one of the longest serving chief ministers, and synonymous with the city of Delhi. These characteristics are rarely attributed to successful political leaders these days.
Sushma Swaraj added her own warm, fuzzy touch to her top job as India's Minister of External Affairs. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi appropriated the more glamorous part of her job, of representing India in foreign bilateral talks, she became the 2am friend you would address your distressed tweet to if you were overseas. She called the Indian Embassy a home away from home for expats. When PM Modi walked all over her portfolio, she could have sat and sulked in the corner she found herself in when she took on the ministerial job. But instead she shaped her ministry into an approachable, responsive and above all humane entity.
Their brand of leadership seems uncommon today.
More than ever, we are witnessing the rise of strong-arm political leadership in countries like India, Turkey, Russia and the US. The leaders' uncanny ability to stay in power makes us believe that this may be just what the doctor ordered for a country.
They are even earning public accolades for their unilateral muscle flexing that is visible in their domestic or foreign policy. But they remind me of the bully whom some of us had the misfortune of enduring at school. An assertive and more combative execution style has become more fashionable today.
It is no coincidence that it took two women to demonstrate that a nurturing quality is an effective tool for governance in India. Let's not forget New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who led her country out of the national tragedy of the Christchurch shootings. She bared her heart as she embraced the victims and their families. As she focused her unequivocal attention on the victims, compassion, empathy, and unhinged solidarity came naturally to her. Traditionally, these were perceived as feminine qualities or the Yin of the Yin-Yang leadership style.
Contrary to popular belief, a nurturing leadership style comes from a position of strength rather than weakness. It is only when you are secure in your position and your understanding of the situation that you can take a more nurturing leadership role. All three leaders have taken decisive actions when needed and with sufficient firmness. PM Ardern ensured that new gun laws were passed, and a buyback programme was in place for gun owners. When Sheila Dikshit pushed Delhi's public transportation towards CNG gas she naturally faced backlash from transporters.
Realising their pain, she ensured that they had access to loans to tide over the change. She was described as a gentle but firm persuader, and also someone who could be persuaded to change her views.
Chances are that we remember the teachers who added a good dose of empathy and compassion in their teaching style. If they held a stick in one hand and chalk in the other, then the students would only see the stick. We remember bosses who have shown compassion when the chips were down.
It's high time that women played to their strength. When we entered the workforce, many of us were told to dumb down our intrinsic feminine qualities because they were traditionally associated with home makers. They had no place at work. We had to be more like men if we had to cement our position in a largely male-dominated workplace. Not anymore. It was only fitting that the Washington Post described Sushma Swaraj as supermom. If you were an Indian expat and in serious trouble, you could count on her.
It is these nurturing qualities that make many women effective leaders. We should not be shy to make use of these traits. I would go one step further and suggest that both men and women should try to use nurturing qualities in their everyday management and during times of crisis.
It's okay to be vulnerable and human, so long as you don't lose sight of what needs to be done. It is okay to have a more nuanced view of a situation. It is okay to take advise from your team even if that means disagreeing with your original decision.
Above all, it is okay to care. So, when a friend recently asked me to mentor her daughter, I felt honoured simply because I was hoping to draw on my nurturing side.
Shalini Verma is the CEO of PIVOT technologies


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