Barack Obama was interviewed a few days ago by journalist Javier del Pino. On being asked about the huge following that a figure like Donald Trump has attracted, Obama answered that in times of uncertainty and fear, people are attracted to the Strong Man. The former U.S. president concluded that as a consequence, it is necessary to alleviate that fear and resentment on the part of the people so that a democratic, egalitarian and participatory society can triumph. If alternatives are not offered, then we will have the appearance of presidents like Trump and scenarios contrary to progressive democratic order, as occurred recently in the U.S. with the assault on the Capitol in Washington.
I am fascinated by that negative connotation of “the Strong Man,” associated with the emergence of undemocratic regimes and authoritarian leaders. For that reason, an affirmation like the one Obama made is very courageous. Look at which camp he placed himself in when he made this affirmation, a man who was the president of the major world power: he is positioning himself without the slightest doubt on the side of men who are “not strong,” who exhibit a different masculinity, much closer to that which has traditionally been considered feminine. And in addition, this new style of leadership is associated with democracy, equality, participation … everything that is fundamental to those who champion progress.
Studies in social psychology show that complex crises can only be addressed by complex responses. And already research has emerged that indicates the best style of leadership is one that promotes cross-cutting, multisectoral and interinstitutional teams and actions. Many of these leadership styles are shown in the world by women: Jacinda Ardern of the New Zealand Labour Party, or Social Democrat Sanna Marin in Finland.
Differences in socialization between men and women are often associated with a greater frequency of hard skills among men and soft skills among women. If you give a document about economics to a group of people and ask them who wrote it, the majority will say it was written by a man. In contrast, if a text about sociology or linguistics is given to the group, the majority will believe that it was written by a woman. And this variability in assignment by gender also carries with it a variability in the value given to the work. Until very recently, the hard skills have been highly regarded, while the soft skills have been maligned and underappreciated.
This crisis confirms that the skills required to get around crises and complex situations are not the hard skills, but the so-called soft skills, which are often stressed by women leaders. And in addition, these are the skills that foster participatory, egalitarian and democratic societies.