female in leadership combating the covid19 (2)

Female Leadership is Proving to be the Secret Weapon in the Battle against Coronavirus

Women leaders around the world are showcasing the type of leadership that is proving to be most effective in handling the current COVID-19 pandemic. Germany (Angela Merkel), Taiwan (Tsai Ing-wen), New Zealand (Jacinda Ardern), Norway (Erna Solberg), Denmark (Mette Frederiksen), Iceland (Kalun Jakobsdottir), and Finland (Sanna Marin) have had one of the more successful responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. From Jacinda Ardern’s swift, decisive yet empathic approach to the pragmatic, science-based approach taken by Angela Merkel, they are proving that in times of crisis, female leaders can lead equally as well if not surpass the effectiveness of some of their male counterparts. 

In this article, I’d like to take a closer look at the specific leadership skills these global female leaders are embodying as a lesson for all of us in how to lead gracefully in times of great hardship and challenge.

It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others. – Dalai Lama

In my book Leading Gracefully, I present the Feminine Leadership Model – a balanced approach to leadership, composed of 12 leadership behaviors that I deem essential in navigating the complexities we face today. Out of these twelve skills, 7 of them can be categorized as “feminine” or more inclusive traits, while four of them can be described as more “masculine” or directive in nature. Although women tend to show up with these feminine behaviors more so than men, it is not exclusive to gender. There are plenty of inclusive male leaders that embody these qualities such as Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, who have been equally impactful leaders.

Research shows that when people were asked what type of qualities they prefered in their leaders, an overwhelming two-thirds thought the world would be a better place if men thought more like women, preferring their leaders to be more empathic, collaborative, humble and authentic. As we shift into a more interconnected and interdependent world, people inherently want their leaders to take a more feminine approach rather than lead with an iron fist.

As we know, leaders of cities, states and countries face an unprecedented test in responding to Covid-19 – the “invisible enemy.” The countries who have seen some of the most effective response to the spread of infection, containment and mitigation have been countries with female leadership. Germany, Taiwan and New Zealand are examples of where the battle against COVID-19 has gone better than in neighboring countries. 

  • In Germany, a country with 83 million people, has had over 132,000 infections but very low deaths per million. Germany has the most intensive care beds and the largest-scale coronavirus testing program in Europe. 
  • Taiwan was so well prepared that it is now able to donate 10 millions masks to the US and 11 European countries. 
  • New Zealand has had only five Covid-19 deaths so far in a country of 5 million.
  • In Norway, Solberg innovatively employed the use of television to talk directly to the children. She was building on the press conference that Denmark’s Frederiksen — equally decisive and swift in her own country — had held earlier. Denmark has 260 deaths while Norway 98.
  • Sanna Marin, a 34-year-old, is the world’s youngest Head of State. As a millennial leader, she has spearheaded a countrywide campaign using social media influencers as key agents in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Finland has 49 deaths.
  • Iceland is offering free coronavirus testing to all its citizens under the leadership of Jakobsdottir.

coronavirus pandemic 2019

But as in all facets of our society, we see a gender gap as it relates to those who hold positions of power versus those who bear the brunt during a crisis like this. Women make up a majority of the world’s healthcare workers, around 70% by some estimates,  but women make up only 7% of world leaders. We are also seeing an alarming uptick in the number of domestic violence cases due to lockdown orders globally. Some countries have responded by providing additional funding in response to rising cases of domestic violence and providing hotel rooms as an escape for victims of abuse. 

Communicating the Vision + Caring + Empathy

Let’s compare two very different leadership styles as in the case of New Zealand and the UK. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, saw the danger coming from miles away. As early as February, her administration banned travelers from China as Wuhan was putting its citizens on lockdown. It then closed its borders in mid-March when there were only a handful cases in New Zealand. This swift and decisive action bought officials time to develop measures that could end the transmission of the coronavirus, such as rigorously quarantining at the country’s borders and expanding testing and contact tracing. Ardern’s government then unveiled a four-level alert system at the outset of the crisis which helped people psychologically prepare for a step-up in seriousness. But it was Ardern’s approach to communicating these steps and the reasoning behind them that made all the difference.

A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, and a little less than his share of the credit. – Arnold H. Glasgow

According to a recent Atlantic article written about Ardern’s response, it describes how she broke the news to New Zealanders’ that they must go into lockdown:

“During a session conducted in late March, just as New Zealand prepared to go on lockdown, she appeared in a well-worn sweatshirt at her home (she had just put her toddler daughter to bed, she explained) to offer guidance “as we all prepare to hunker down.”

She sympathized with how alarming it must have been to hear the “loud honk” that had preceded the emergency alert message all New Zealanders had just received essentially informing them that life as they knew it was temporarily over. She introduced helpful concepts, such as thinking of “the people [who] will be in your life consistently over this period of time” as your “bubble” and “acting as though you already have COVID-19” toward those outside of your bubble. She justified severe policies with practical examples: People needed to stay local, because what if they drove off to some remote destination and their car broke down? She said she knows as a parent that it’s really hard to avoid playgrounds, but the virus can live on surfaces for 72 hours.”

Her ability to calmly explain the reasoning behind the lockdown order and her empathetic communication skills made the news more tolerable. In times of crisis, it’s imperative that leaders are able to rally the troops and get them to follow orders. Getting your people to get on board quickly, calmly and in an orderly manner is key in such a crisis and it has proven to be the most effective strategy. But the way that message is delivered is crucial to have buy-in from the population, in this case, but in any given situation where you need people to follow your vision. Ardern’s authentic and down-to-earth tone had that effect and ensured that people came together around a common goal. 

Ego-Centered Leadership + Denialism

Ardern’s approach couldn’t be more different than Boris Johnson’s in the UK. They received reports of it’s first cases as early as the beginning of February but the risk level set by the government remained at “moderate” until March 12. News began pouring  from Italy and Spain where it was plain to see the devastating toll of the virus from photos of patients lying sick on floors of hospitals and a death toll that was sure to shame WWII death figures.  

True Leaders are selfless. They have always been servants of the people first. -Anonymous

But Boris Johnson’s knee-jerk response was not to come up with a plain of containment as was clearly necessary and being implemented all over the world. Instead he declared that the UK’s strategy should be to allow herd immunity to take place, all but ensuring massive numbers of its citizens to be exterminated. Even though the idea was not ultimately implemented, it still distracted and prevented the government from taking the necessary measures in a timely manner. In fact, Boris Johnson himself was seen walking through hospitals without wearing a mask, shaking sick patient’s hands and setting an example that there was really nothing to worry about. This approach of course backfired. He was soon declared positive for coronavirus and had to be admitted to the ICU where he spent a few nights fighting for his life.  The result is that the UK is now on track to have the highest rate of infections and highest rate of mortality, possibly exceeding that of Italy or France.

couple kissing with masks - covid19

The examples of these two polarities in leadership show us that especially in times of crisis, leadership matters. When there is fear and uncertainty, the best leaders will know how to build trust, be vulnerable and make sure everyone knows that there is a plan. This can bring down the anxiety level and ensure plans are implemented correctly, and in the case of COVID, that couldn’t be more imperative where the goal is to flatten the curve. Sowing seeds of doubt, changing your direction, or denying there is a problem or blaming others is a sure fire way to sow seeds of division. This can lead to unrest and even “mutiny” as we are seeing in many parts of the United States, due to the haphazard style of leadership coming from President Trump. 

This is a disaster waiting to happen and only time will tell how it will play out. But what these examples of female leadership are showing us around the globe is that there is an alternative to traditional models of male leadership. Perhaps it’s time to shatter some of the gender stereotypes or unconscious gender biases we associate with women not being “leadership material”. Because if COVID-19 is killing anything, it should be killing the myth that women aren’t as qualified or as effective as men when it comes to leading a country. This crisis is showing us that women can be strong leaders, yet lean into their feminine strengths to navigate a crisis.

practice mindfulness

10 Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness In Our Daily Life

“Look past your thoughts, so you may drink the pure nectar of This Moment.” – Rumi

These days as we are all learning to adapt to a new normal of staying indoors, I’ve been personally finding it difficult to focus on what is going right with the world instead of what is going wrong. I find myself sometimes getting sucked into hours of scrolling through my social media feed to read the latest news (which is mostly all terrible) or to feel more connected to friends and family. With all the unknowns of what the future holds, it’s easy to get stuck in negative feedback loops which ultimately breed stress in the body. And right now stress is the last thing we need if we want to boost our immune systems and keep a healthy mental state.

mindfullness meditation
So in this blog post, I want to talk about how to train your brain through mindfulness practices to stay focused on the positive, lower stress, and keep yourself mentally healthy during this uncertain time we’re going through. 

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the ability to stay in the present moment and to focus your thoughts on what is happening in the here and now. It’s our ability to not think about the past or the future but to instead observe what is happening in the moment. 

Why Should We Practice Mindfulness?

There have been many prominent teachers like Deepak Chopra or Eckhart Tolle and others who teach us about the power of mindfulness and why it’s so important to incorporate it into our daily practice. It has many proven benefits from reducing anxiety, depression and chronic pain to improving sleep and reducing stress. Mindfulness also helps us in achieving our goals such as weight-loss or starting a new project. And from a leadership perspective, mindfulness can help us stay centered in order to more effectively manage people or deal with external challenges. All in all, mindfulness is an important practice for us to cultivate to lead happy and meaningful lives.

yoga and mindfulness

But it’s not something that comes naturally for us especially with the many distractions that take our attention and focus elsewhere. Most of us are now addicted to our technology and have less ability to focus our attention for a long period of time. We constantly check our news feed, email or texts and are bombarded with information overload. The day goes by without us even checking in with ourselves, let alone spending time practicing mindfulness, which ironically ends up making us feel disconnected and unhappy. And when we do slow down we tend to feel guilty for doing so, like there’s some kind of rule that tells us we need to be busy in every given moment to be productive and make the most of each minute.

The result of this is we become much more susceptible to bad news, misinformation and anxiety which drag us down both mentally and physically. We end up being uncomfortable with just being with ourselves, we lose our connection to something bigger or to our inner power. We lose our ability to create our future consciously through focusing on what’s working for us right now. 

Cultivating Mindfulness in our Daily Lives

Since breaking our addiction to technology is a much bigger task (and a topic for another blog), we need to build practices in our daily lives to bring ourselves back to what really matters. Although nothing beats a good mindfulness meditation it can sometimes be difficult to squeeze in a 20-30 minute meditation in our busy lives. Instead, we can build micro-practices throughout the day to focus our attention.

buddha and mindfulness

 

Here are my top 10 mindfulness activities you can practice throughout the day:

“With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.” – Thich Nhat Hanh.

1. Practice gratitude 

When we practice gratitude, we have to focus our attention to what is positive in our lives in the present moment. It gently brings the good stuff to the forefront of our mind so that we are able to more easily come back into the now moment, instead of fretting about the future or rehashing the past. By focusing on the positive we then become more available to create a more positive future.

practice gratitude

 

2. Check in with your body

The body functions without your participation – you breathe automatically, your heart beats continuously and your bodily functions keep going regardless of what you do. But the body is constantly sending us messages through sensations in the body. Take a moment and check in with your body – what do you notice?
Where are you holding tension? Do you have aches or pains? Do you feel heavy or light? Bringing your attention to your body can help realign your attention to the present but also connects you to the information you need to take better care of your body. For more tips on how to lean into body wisdom, you can check out my new course on building more confidence.

beat the inner bully

 

3. Pay attention to your heart

Our emotions are another way the body communicates with us at any given moment. Throughout the day, you might experience a range of emotions from sadness to joy. By checking in with your heart where your emotions originate, you come into more coherence with yourself. My favorite resource for this is the Heart Math Institute that has done decades of research on the power of the heart and how it affects not only our individual health but the well-being of others.

4. Fire up your five senses

One of the simplest ways of staying mindful is to bring your attention to the present moment. Stop what you are doing for a moment and observe what is going on around you. What noises do you hear? What scents do you smell? What are others around you doing? Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, put your full attention there and observe it through your five senses for a few moments to practice bringing your mind to the now moment.

5. Practice the centering exercise

One of the best exercises I teach my clients is a short 30 second practice called the Centering Exercise that helps you tune into your body and into the present moment through centering. Here’s a quick video that runs you through the step by step process on how to do it. You can also find it featured in my book, Leading Gracefully. It’s a great exercise for leaders, managers, entrepreneurs and busy moms!

hardcover of book leading gracefully

6. Focus on your breath

Another access point to bringing our attention to the moment is by focusing on our breath. The breath is happening with or without our conscious awareness, but by bringing our attention to our breath we can help our mind focus. Notice how you are breathing. Is it shallow or deep? Take five deep belly breaths and focus your attention on your inhale and exhale. Repeat that three times and practice it multiple times during the day.

7. Observe your thoughts

Here’s a fun game – stop what you’re doing and start observing your thoughts. Can you do that? What do you notice? Try it and see what happens!

8. Mindful eating

Another time to focus on the present moment is when we eat. Most of the time we aren’t paying attention to the food we eat because we’re eating at our desk, watching a Youtube video or reading while we eat. But research has shown that when we eat with more mindfulness, we digest our food better which helps get more vitamins and minerals and aids in overall digestive health.

mindfulness and weight loss

So next time you sit down for a meal, put down the phone, chew your food mindfully and notice how you eat. Do you eat fast or slow? Do you chew your food or inhale it? What does your food taste like? What you discover might even inspire you to take up an online cooking class! 

9. Practice active listening

Most of the time when others speak we are in our heads trying to think of how we are going to respond. We tune out about halfway before the person is even finished with their thought. Next time you have a conversation, try active listening where you are putting your full attention on the other person. Listen with your ears, heart and intuition. Practice mindful listening and observe whether the quality of your conversations change.

mindfulness and meditation

10. Observe your surroundings

I like practicing this when I’m outdoors – just focusing on what is happening around me. Notice the traffic. Focus on the people walking by. Notice a beautiful flower. The wind in your hair. The sun on your face. You can practice this when you’re going for a walk or a hike or just sitting on your patio or from your yard if you’re homebound.

I hope these simple exercises help give you access to the world of mindfulness without having to read books or sit through long meditations. Of course those are great mindfulness activities if you have the time, but I find it easier to make practicing mindfulness part of my daily activities so I can train my mind and stay more positive, feel happier and be in charge of what I choose to attract to myself by staying in the here and now.  

Do you have any tips or exercises that help you stay mindful? Share them in the comments below!

The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger | Shauna Shapiro

 

“In today’s rush, we all think too much–seek too much–want too much–and forget about the joy of just being.” – Eckhart Tolle

enjoy nature

7 Tips on How to Practice Gratitude to Beat the #COVID Blues

There are only two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other as though everything is a miracle. – Albert Einstein

In my last blog post, I shared a few life hacks to help us stay productive while working from home during this challenging time during #COVID19. One of the things I left out was a topic I thought deserved a whole post to itself –  practicing gratitude. Why do I think gratitude is such an important topic that I dedicated a whole post to it? Because there are some pretty significant mental and health benefits from doing so, and at times like these, we can use all the help we can get.

So first, let’s look at how we define gratitude.

What is Gratitude?

 The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. I like to define gratitude as the art of being in appreciation of something and acknowledging the presence of it, whether tangible or intangible.

 Why is Gratitude Important?

Gratitude is important because it keeps us tethered to reality. It takes us beyond ourselves and reminds us of the interconnection and interdependence of all things. It keeps us centered and grounded. And it can lift our spirits and give us comfort during difficult times. Practicing gratitude is the antidote to fear, scarcity and feelings of not being in control. It can remind us that even in the darkest moment, there are things to be thankful for which can immediately land us into an attitude of more generosity and positivity when things are tough.

 

What are the Benefits of Gratitude?

Recent studies show strong evidence that there are some very positive benefits on our health and well-being by practicing gratefulness. Gratitude can make people happier, improve their relationships, and potentially even counteract depression and suicidal thoughts. In another study, more grateful participants reported fewer health problems (such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory infections, and sleep disturbances); in another, they reported fewer physical symptoms (including headaches, dizziness, stomachaches, and runny noses). Although it seems as more research is necessary to show direct correlation between improved health and practicing gratitude, growing research in the area of positive psychology indicates that gratitude can lead to more happiness.

 How do we Practice Gratitude?

Before we can be grateful for something, we actually have to stop and notice that “It” is happening. The proverbial “It” is whatever you happen to notice in the moment – it can be as simple as a sunny day with blue skies or it can be acknowledging the thousands of selfless people putting themselves in harm’s way right now who are working the front lines to care for us, provide for us and keep us safe during this pandemic. That step right before gratitude requires mindfulness – the remembering, the stopping, the noticing – all steps necessary to be able to practice gratitude on a regular basis.

today I am grateful for

When Should We Practice Gratitude?

Anytime is a good time to practice gratitude and I recommend making it part of your daily practice. It can help you accept change, relieve stress and boost your mental health. Feeling grateful can be helpful when going through a tough break-up, when we lose our job, or lose a loved one. When we are trying to manifest more abundance in our life, gratitude is one of the essential steps to staying open to receiving all the goodness coming your way. Saying thank you or giving credit to an employee or a teammate can go a long way as well. People work harder and are more motivated when they feel appreciated. No one likes being taken for granted, so being thankful to your hard working staff shows that you acknowledge their efforts and can make them feel valued.

7 Tips to Practicing Gratitude

Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance. – Eckhart Tolle

 1. Keep a daily gratitude journal.   

Start your day with gratitude. Keep a journal by your bedside and upon waking up, jot down a few things you’re grateful for. Do this consistently for at least a month and notice any differences in your mood or in how your day progresses.

gratitude notes

 2. Write a note or letter of thanks to someone.

This might be a letter you send or decide to keep to yourself. You may decide to write a note of gratitude to someone who has hurt you in the past. This can serve as a deeply healing exercise to help let go of any feelings of resentment and allow you to see the gifts in the situation.

 3. Accept each day as a gift.

Remind yourself that each day is a new opportunity. An opportunity to do something kind for someone, to improve yourself, or to make a positive impact. Each day could be your last, so be grateful for the chance to live on this beautiful planet, surrounded by people you love.

4. Enjoy nature’s beauty

One of the easiest ways to practice gratitude is to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. Gaze up at the sun, smell the fresh air, take a walk in nature. Be mindful of the miracles all around you. Stand in awe of how perfect it all is.

practice gratitude everyday

 5. See beauty in others and pay compliments.

There is nothing better than putting a smile on someone’s face. Giving a kind (and respectful) compliment can go a long way in brightening up their day. It can also make you feel good to do so. Appreciate the beauty in others and let them know you see them for who they are.

 6. Keep in mind: there is nothing lacking.

Remind yourself that we live in an abundant world. Scarcity and fear are fixations of our imagination that are used to control us. Allow yourself to trust that things will be OK, that you are taken care of, and that there is enough for everyone (this is for the toilet paper hoarders out there!).

 7. Start and end your day with gratitude.

Just like you start your day, end your day with gratitude. It can be in the form of a quick prayer of thanks, a text of appreciation to someone, or a reminder of what went right in your day.  

give thanks

 

Books on Gratitude

Of course there are some great books written on the subject of gratitude along with some awesome videos about gratitude as well. Here are some of my favorites:

The Gratitude Diaries

By Janice Kaplan

Taking advice from a range of professionals, Kaplan shared both personal experiences and extensive research to explore how gratitude can transform every aspect of life. In this warm, funny book, Kaplan shares with her readers the value of appreciating what you have.

Available from Amazon.

The Psychology of Gratitude

Editors: Michael McCullough, Robert A. Emmons

This text combines the work of prominent scientists from a range of disciplines to look closely at gratitude. It covers historical, philosophical and theoretical foundations of gratitude, then presents current research from a wide variety of sources.

Available from Amazon.

Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life

By Angeles Arrien

Angeles Arrien asks readers to think about making gratitude their focal point for a whole year. Bringing together teachings from social science, she presents a 12-month ‘gratitude plan’.

Available from Amazon.

During times like these, it’s easy to give into all the fear mongering and feelings of scarcity. It’s imperative that you limit your exposure to content that fills you up with negativity. Focus on the things that are going right, choose to consume content that fills you with joy instead, and remember to be thankful for all that you have. Think of ways that you can spread joy or give back. Get creative and ask yourself – how do I want to show up when things get tough? Practicing gratitude is a choice you can make every day.

 I’m grateful to you for making the time to read this post and for sharing it with those that might benefit! 

Want to be happy? Be grateful by David Steindl-Rast