Leadership Blogpost: Does the leadership style of male and female country leaders explain their success during Covid-19?
The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged political leaders worldwide, bringing discussion about leadership in times of crisis. In various media outlets, a recurring topic has been the relationship between the gender of a country’s leader and the success of his or her Covid-19 approach. Especially female leaders have been praised in news articles for minimizing the number of deaths caused by Covid-19 in their respective countries.
In scientific quarters, the subject of female leadership during the pandemic has attracted similar attention. The current discussion about gender and leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic, in combination with existing literature on gender and leadership in times of crisis, provided me with an interesting subject for my master’s thesis: how does the leadership style of male and female country leaders contribute to the success of their Covid-19 approach?
In order to investigate the topic, I selected six countries striving to control for as much variables as possible, while systematically varying two variables: gender of a country’s leader and level of achieved success during the initial period of Covid-19. This research design led to the selection of Australia, New-Zealand, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium, and enabled me to delve into the level of the individual country leaders. I executed a qualitative data analysis by coding 41 speeches held by the male and female country’s leaders who achieved varying levels of success during the first wave of Covid-19 in Spring 2020. Subsequently, I linked these codes to the dimensions and aspects of three different leadership styles: ‘transformational’, ‘transactional’ and ‘charismatic’ leadership, which enabled me to discern possible patterns in the use of leadership styles and the level of success of a country leader’s Covid-19 approach.
My study reveals a small difference in the effectiveness of leadership styles. It seems that using intellectual stimulation - a dimension of the transformational leadership style - contributed to the success of a country’s leader Covid-19 approach irrespective of the leader’s gender. Furthermore, the leadership styles of male and female leaders included in the study hardly differed. These findings suggest that there is no such thing as typically male and female leadership and that success of both female and male leaders should be attributed to the use of effective leadership qualities in certain circumstances.
Media attention for female country leaders successfully leading their country through the crisis might be explained by the fact that female leadership is still exceptional, and therefore attracts more attention. Gender stereotypes that may lead the public to be attentive of female leaders, also form obstacles that make women having to fight harder to reach the top. This selection effect may imply that women reaching the top may be exceptionally competent.
Rosanne Molendijk is a Master student in track International and European Governance of the Master Public Administration at the Institute of Public Administration at Leiden University.