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Women’s Leadership in times of Conflict, Crisis or Change

by Sophie Poldermans

“Research shows that women are better leaders in times of conflict and in crisis situations. In addition, they are better instigators and managers of change.”

The data is very clear. Research shows that women are better leaders in times of conflict and in crisis situations. In addition, they are better instigators and managers of change.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review headlines that women are better leaders during a crisis, with the current global COVID-19 pandemic as example. There are numerous other examples like conflict and post-conflict societies, economic crises and climate change where women are more engaged and decisive and come up with more constructive, creative, innovative and sustainable solutions.

Seducing and Killing Nazis

I capture a great example of women leaders in times of conflict in my book Seducing and Killing Nazis. Hannie, Truus and Freddie: Dutch Resistance Heroines of WWII (USA, 2019). This is the true story of three teenage Dutch girls, Hannie Schaft and sisters Truus and Freddie Oversteegen, who took up arms against the enemy by seducing high-ranking Nazi officers, luring them into the woods and killing them. Hannie Schaft was executed by the Nazis three weeks before the end of the war and became the icon of female Dutch resistance. Truus and Freddie Oversteegen survived the war, but were forever haunted by the demons of their past. I had the honor of knowing both Oversteegen sisters for 20 years as remarkable courageous women and genuine leaders. The book has been rated New York Post Best seller of 2019, was # 1 on Amazon in the category Dutch History for weeks and was greatly received in TIME, the Independent, the Daily Mail, Inspirational Women podcast, Women’s radio, History Hit podcast, Ms. Magazine, Chicago the Jam Tv Show and others.

Sophie’s Women of War

As a lawyer specialized in international criminal law and especially the role of women in armed conflict, I discovered the same pattern during my research as to the Holocaust and the writing of Seducing and Killing Nazis, and in post-conflict areas like Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina and Rwanda: Women are often portrayed as the main victims in war torn countries, while it is precisely women who often resist and rebuild society. In addition, women show genuine leadership and conflict management skills in the political, corporate and domestic arena.

That instigated my idea to found my own business: Sophie’s Women of War, to shed light on women’s leadership in times of conflict, crisis and change, providing positive role models for women around the globe. This business is built on and offers a framework for modern-day business, examining a five pillar framework of leadership derived from these women leaders, for example the heroines of my book and the other remarkable and courageous women I met or whose stories inspired me:  Passion, Purpose, People, Perspective and Perseverance.

5 P Framework: Passion, Purpose, People, Perspective and Perseverance

Passion: If you live and breathe a specific topic, your work or private life, you will flourish and you will be provided with energy. You will be able to spot opportunities, find courage to take risks and invest and you will be able to think strategically.

Purpose driven leadership is based on a set of core values that you embrace in your business and life. For me that is a strong moral compass where principles as justice, peace and equality are paramount. Turn to self-examination to explore which core values are unique for you. That way you will display integrity and authenticity.

People: Focus on and invest (time, money) in people rather than result and profit. You will find that by focussing on respect, connection and relationships, reflexion, empathy and compassion you will create a safe and happy work environment. At the same time your output will be more productive, efficient and effective.

Perspective: A diverse, inclusive, international work environment is essential to come up with elegant solutions. Varied (different genders, ages, cultural and professional backgrounds), multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teams will lead to innovation. Develop a vision that is strategic and sustainable.

Perseverance: With your passion and purpose in mind, keep going and don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s all about the journey and you will learn from mistakes. Be resilient in order to deal with obstacles that are inherent to life, e.g. health issues, family matters, a toxic work environment, not enough room for creativity and innovation, narrow-minded people, a global pandemic, climate change and more. Believe in yourself and what you stand for and if you fall down, get up and try again.

 Dare to Look in the Mirror

In an increasingly divided world there are so many lessons we can derive from these women leaders. We can translate the underlying narrative into our own world. Let them enrich and inspire you and challenge you to take a moment to look into the mirror and to reflect on your own life and business in order to decipher which purpose and core values drive you. Dare to take the lead!

Meet Sophie Poldermans

Photographer: Herman Chow

Sophie Poldermans, residing in the Netherlands, is the author of the  best seller “Seducing and Killing Nazis” and is the founder of “Sophie’s Women of War.” In addition, she is an international speaker, lecturer and consultant on women and war, women’s leadership and business innovation advocating women’s rights around the globe.

She has degrees in Dutch and International Human Rights and International Criminal Law (University of Amsterdam); Peace and Conflict Studies (UC Berkeley, USA); Human Rights and Democratization (EIUC, Venice, Italy; Vienna, Austria), Women’s Leadership (Yale School of Management, USA) and certificates in Business Innovation and Negotiation (Columbia Business School, USA).

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