These turbulent times require authentic leadership — leaders who make informed decisions, who are collaborative and are transparent in their decision-making.
The front page of The Salt Lake Tribune on June 4 featured two Utah leaders, Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, and Erin Mendenhall, Salt Lake City’s mayor. Dunn has been providing steady leadership in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the recent protests over George Floyd’s murder, Mendenhall has acted swiftly to address racial injustice, and to stem the protest-related violence and destruction in Salt Lake City.
In addition to Dunn and Mendenhall, our nation and the world have witnessed clear communication and exceptional results from other leaders. Dr. Deborah Birx has been a voice of reason in our nation’s attempts to quell the COVID-19 pandemic.
The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden, has been hailed as an exemplar in her approach to containing and preventing transmission of the novel coronavirus, with her country experiencing only 22 COVID-19 related deaths. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is yet another example of trusted leadership during an unprecedented worldwide disaster. She has been lauded for her straight delivery, aversion to rhetorical grandeur, calm confidence and her ability to clearly communicate the science behind her decision-making.
What do these leaders have in common, aside from their accomplishments? They are of course all women, which is in part why they are successfully leading their nations and communities. This should really come as no surprise to anyone.
According to the American Psychological Association, women leaders are often more cooperative and participatory, whereas male leaders tend to have a more “command and control style.” A Harvard Business Review study found that women leaders score higher than men in building relationships, inspiring and motivating others, as well as in taking initiative and striving for results. Dunn and Mendenhall are no exception to this.
Dunn walks to the podium every day and provides an update on the state’s burden of coronavirus. Her confidence, poise, and intelligent delivery of data and recommendations both inform and reassure the public. She exudes integrity, resulting in our trust of her message.
Mendenhall is described as a collaborative leader who has cultivated deep relationships with community leaders. Erin describes leadership as a privilege. As a community air-quality activist, city councilwoman and, now, mayor, Erin has brought her commitment to caring for the environment, the city and, most importantly, its people.
Leadership is a privilege. Leaders are at the service of their team, not the other way around. Good leaders are self aware and generous, with emotional intelligence that makes leaders put themselves in the place of others, understand their concerns and solve problems.
Current events demand the type of leadership that Dunn and Mendenhall bring. We need even more leaders like them — women and men who step up and lean in with authenticity, integrity, curiosity, empathy, generosity and collaboration.
Elizabeth Joy, M.D., MPH, is a sports and family medicine physician in Salt Lake City and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.