Managing grand challenges demands a relational leader who encourages collaboration, coordination, and trust with various stakeholders. Although leaders appear to play a critical role in addressing grand challenges, relatively little research exists about the factors that inform stakeholder perceptions of leaders during a grand challenge. To address this limitation, we integrate implicit leadership theory and gender role theory to consider stakeholders’ gender prescriptive expectations when evaluating leader effectiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic. We theorize that stakeholders advantage female leaders based on mental schemas of what is required in a pandemic—relational leadership—and stakeholders’ prescriptive expectations of female leaders as more relational. Using a laboratory experiment, we find that female leaders are perceived as more relational, and hence, more effective than their male counterparts. Our findings advance scholars’ and practitioners’ understanding of strategic leadership, stakeholder management, and grand challenges.